By Claire E. Parsons • December 21, 2018•Careers, Firms and the Private Sector, Other Career Issues, Issues, Mentoring and Networking
Lack of mentorship for female attorneys is often cited as one of the reasons that women still have not achieved parity in the legal profession. Most of the time when people talk about mentoring, however, the focus is on the benefits that such a relationship offers to the mentee. As a new partner, I certainly appreciate this since I know that, without good mentors, I never would have made it. Still, I have been struck over the last year how much relationships with younger lawyers have benefitted me in positive way. I have always believed in the idea of lifting while you climb, but I didn’t understand until I experienced it that the “lifting” can go both ways. The truth is that mentors stand to gain a lot if they form quality relationships with mentees, but sometimes the lack of time or generational differences get in the way. In case any attorneys out there need extra incentive to mentor young attorneys, here are the most significant benefits that I have experienced.
There’s nothing more likely to induce lethargy and staleness than doing the same thing for a long period of time. In order to avoid this, experienced attorneys should keep close ties with their younger colleagues. Do you remember how excited you were in law school by new concepts? Do you remember what it was like as a new attorney when you got new projects? I do and I remember how committed to the work product I was. As your career advances, however, it is normal for this level of excitement to fade. Bringing bright young attorneys in to work with you is a way to bring that energy back.
2. Ideas and Skills
Though it often seems like young attorneys know less than more experienced ones, this isn’t quite true. They may know less about the law on a practical level, but they have different life experiences and backgrounds and so it is very likely that they have skills and ideas that you don’t. For example, this year my new associate helped me create a short video to apply to present at a regional seminar. I was nervous about it because I had never done it, but with her help (and her iPad) we created a video together that got me a spot on the speaker’s list. It’s possible that I could have figured it out on my own, but her help ensured that I submitted an application rather than letting the opportunity pass me by. The great thing about this experience was that we both learned that it was pretty easy and quick to create videos that we’ll be able to use for future opportunities and marketing efforts.
3. Beginner’s Mind
As a meditator, I appreciate the Buddhist concept of “beginner’s mind” which suggests that we ought to experience life as it is, rather than what our preconceptions tell us it is. Because they don’t have the experience you do, new lawyers have what you don’t: legal beginner’s mind. This means that they may see the details of things as they are and ask clarifying questions about the law that you’ve long since stopped asking. I have found that answering these questions forces me to think and rethink fundamental issues. This has helped me to process issues in a new way and avoid overlooking small, but significant, details. Law practice often requires wrestling with shades of gray, rather than merely answering black and white questions. A young lawyer’s beginner’s mind, which is trying to really understand the reasons why something is true, can therefore be just what you need to solve a complex legal problem.
4. Maintaining a Good Team
Though it would be nice to think that, as soon as you make partner at your firm, you stop worrying about the future, it just isn’t true. Even after you make partner, you still have to think about advancing your own interests within your firm. In addition, you’ll start to think more broadly about the long-term sustainability of your firm. To achieve both of these things, you need to keep the quality of your team in the front of your mind. As your practice grows, it becomes more and more important for you to have a team of supporters who can help you manage current clients, govern your law firm’s internal operations, and attract new clients. If you are actively mentoring younger attorneys, you’ll be in a better position to know the talents, skills, interests, limitations, and even goals of your team. This will make you a stronger leader within your firm and a more effective attorney for your clients.
The last reason that mentoring is good for mentors is the best one: it just feels really good. In life, I have found that the experiences which make me look forward and backward at the same time are the best ones. Mentoring gives you such an experience. As good as it feels to have the help and support of a mentor, it feels even better to watch a mentee blossom with your help and support. As good as it feels to do your first closing argument in a trial, it feels even better to bring a new attorney in to present a trial with you. In other words, mentoring allows you to move towards the future while remembering and honoring your past experiences as a young attorney. It offers a level of fulfillment that going it alone cannot and fulfillment matters if you want your career to be a happy and productive one.
In short, mentoring young attorneys is not just good for the young attorneys. It is good for any attorney who wants to get new ideas, energize their practice, maintain a good team, or experience fulfillment in the practice of law. It takes time and effort but both investments, in my experience, tend to be amply rewarded. If you can do one thing in 2019 to improve the legal profession, strengthen your team, and build your practice, it is building a mentoring relationship with a new attorney.