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Completing the circle of mentoring

Star WarsI have been fairly lucky with surrounding myself with “mentors” to help guide me through my legal career. (I put mentors in quotes because I never really had a designated mentor through some type of program, but I essentially just glommed onto more mature attorneys and jurists until they were forced to give me advice). Younger attorneys are often told to find mentors to provide advice on work-related matters, work-life balance or sticky ethical issues.

In the past few years, as I have transformed from a “young” young attorney to an “older” young attorney (and soon to be a middle-aged attorney), the mentoring roles have reversed and I’m now mentoring. Think of Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s light saber fight on the flight deck of the Death Star and Darth saying, “The circle is now complete” and you will understand what I am saying.

Mentoring is not easy. It requires patience and an understanding of your mentee’s station in life. I forget how difficult it was to be a first-year associate, trying to learn both the practice of law and the actual law. After years of depositions and trials, older attorneys forget their first time in court or meeting with a client or arbitration. When I was a “young” young attorney, nothing annoyed me more than when I would ask for advice and get a somewhat dismissive response by a more mature (i.e. older) attorney.

When our younger associates come to ask me questions about a case or something related to the practice of law, I find that I must stop what I am doing, face them and actually respond to their questions. It sounds simple enough (and falls within the basic tenants of courteousness) but I sometimes find myself too busy to look up from computer or provide them undivided attention unless I really try. In addition to being somewhat rude, this does not validate any of their concerns or help them with their issues. Essentially, it’s bad mentoring.

Mentoring occurs in many different forms — it could be a younger associate simply asking for advice or you could be assigned a mentor through mentoring programs, such as the Maryland Court of Appeals mentoring program for new admittees. Whatever and whenever it occurs, below are a few tips that I picked up from Lori L. Keating’s  article,  “How to Mentor Another Lawyer” in an ABA’s Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

The article provides six tips to become an effective mentor, which include:

  1. Share expectations
  2. Don’t undermine the process
  3. Bring food (or sports or art) to the conversation
  4. Follow up
  5. Promote networking
  6. Enjoy the rewards

If you have any advice you would like to share (or complaints) about being a mentor, please share in the comments section below.

2 comments

  1. Nice sci-fi reference.

    The Maryland Association for Justice has a fantastic mentorship program for up-and-coming civil plaintiff’s lawyers, criminal defense lawyers and family law lawyers. Go to https://www.marylandassociationforjustice.com/index.cfm?pg=mentor, or contact the chair, Jim McAlister at jmacal57@gmail.com.

  2. Great piece on a critical topic for attorney development!