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Mentoring: Your professional lifeline

I ran into one of my mentors during the president’s reception at the Maryland State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting in Ocean City in June. I adopted “RF” (as I’ll refer to him) as a mentor in 2007 or 2008 at a course he was teaching on insurance defense. It was less than two years after I was admitted in the Bar and I knew no one in the legal community except my colleagues at the office because I went to law school in Connecticut and had a limited legal network in Maryland.

So, I took a chance. After RF’s presentation, I approached him and asked him to become my mentor.

“Sure, but what does this entail?” he asked.

“Well, I am not sure yet,” I said, “but I would like to learn from you and be able to ask you questions from time to time.”

So we exchanged information and I hope he has not regretted it. He has been a splendid mentor all of these years and a great influence.

I am sure you have heard the phrases “you don’t learn to practice law” or “how to be an attorney in law.” I believe you learn how to be a better attorney and all the unwritten rules of the legal profession with a mentor. I have been lucky to have three extraordinary legal mentors, including RF.

A mentor is someone who is willing to invest time and energy to teach you about the profession. He or she does not necessarily have to work in your same practice area but the mentor should have enough life skills to guide you where you want to go. In the case of RF, he has assisted me with everything from how to best organize an argument in a motion or at trial to how to address an issue in the workplace. He influenced me to become involved in the state Bar, where I now serve on some committees and sections. In a nutshell, he told me all the tidbits on how to be a successful attorney in Maryland.

But the mentor, of course, is only one part of the relationship. So how do you become a good mentee? As a mentee, it is your responsibility also to invest in the relationship. You should not be afraid to inform your mentor what areas you need help with. For example, let’s say you want to learn more trial techniques. You should ask for a recommendation for resources or to come “shadow” your mentor in court. Second, you should be considerate of your mentor’s time. If the question and/or concern requires more than five minutes of the mentor’s time, I think it’s best to schedule an appointment over the phone or in person.

Lastly, you should remember that your mentor is a person, too. This relationship is not all about you. Do the small things like congratulate him or her on accomplishments, send birthday wishes, or a even write simple “how are you doing” email from time to time.

As the executive director of the Maryland Professionalism Center, I assist with administering the Court of Appeals’ mentoring program. This program pairs newly admitted attorneys with seasoned attorneys. The program is near and dear to my heart because of the impact my amazing mentors have had on my career as a practitioner.

I should note that sometimes finding the right mentor may take more than one try. You should be proactive and find someone that you would like to have as a mentor and “adopt” him or her and, more importantly, invest in the mentor and yourself.

I submit to you that mentoring is the lifeline to success in our profession and can make a world of difference.