By Stephanie Martin • January 04, 2013•Writers in Residence
As I made my way through law school, it quickly became clear to me that there was a lot more to the practice of law than the substantive material we were learning in the classroom. The practical skills of dealing with clients and business development are often learned over time. The process of choosing a practice area and environment is aided by the advice of an experienced hand. The challenges that one could face throughout her career can best be navigated with the help of someone who has been there before. At every stage in one’s career, but especially at the beginning, the presence of a mentor can be invaluable.
While this column will provide information and guidance on a wide variety of topics, the development of a relationship with a mentor on an individual level is also crucial. Compatibility of personality, personal experience, and rapport are all important to developing a relationship in which you can call on someone with an individualized problem.
How does one go about finding a mentor and developing that relationship? While I don’t have all the answers, there are a few things that have worked for me in the past. A good avenue is your school’s alumni network. Many schools have a database of alumni that can be searched by practice area, geographic location and the like. I recommend contacting some of these individuals who may share your interests and striking up a conversation with them. For example, my school is not located in the region in which I want to practice. I sought out alumni who practice in that region, and started out by asking how they made the geographic transition.
Another avenue is professional associations like the bar association or other interest groups. Attending meetings or reaching out to members is often a good way to connect with potential members, because there is an increased chance that you share some similar interests (many are often free for law students!). From there, it is just a matter of sharing your story and keeping in contact. Be sure to be sensitive to your contacts’ and mentors’ schedules, and don’t forget to let them know you’re thankful for their help.
If you are still a law student, you are in a unique position. I was once advised to take advantage of my years as a student to ask for as much advice as I possibly can. Because you are not practicing, there is less inclination for others to believe that you have an ulterior motive or will be looking for business. Many people I have encountered are eager to share their experiences and do what they can to help out law students.
Good luck, and stay tuned!