The Great Mentor Myth

The idea of mentoring and the association with the success of women in the legal profession is of great interest to me.  When I was a summer associate at my firm, I was assigned one.  When I started full-time, I was assigned another.  I am an assigned mentor to a second year associate at the firm now.  I am also the assigned mentor to a law student and recent graduate through my local women's bar association.  I've been to panel discussions on the topic in numerous settings.  I am an active reader of Ms. JD, which I consider to be a virtual mentor, and other "advice" blogs.  However, with all of this, I don't see my professional success tied to my "mentors" and pray that my mentees don't tie their professional success to my mentorship.

There is a no-nonsense article at The Careerist from last month here entitled "When Your Mentor is Not Into You" that I think makes a number of really good points.  In the article, Pat Gillette, is quoted as saying that not having a mentor "has become an excuse for a lot of women."  I think she may be right about that and would like to echo the concern to the readers here.  Look, mentorship and advice are great in helping you navigate this profession but they can't be the end-all to your plan for success for yourself.

A little while back, my office hosted a lunch program on the topic of mentoring.  The turnout from women attorneys was impressive.  The panel consisted of successful partners who really care about associate development.  As the panel discussion carried on it was clear that "mentorship" in the minds of the panelist was more of a concept of role models and example-ship than anything formal that people think of when they think of mentoring.  The stories they told about learning the profession related equally to partners and senior attorneys that 'showed them the ropes' as they did to partners and senior associates that showed, through their example, ways not to do things.  The "mentors" that were most important to the panelists probably didn't even know they were "mentoring".  The point being -- watch those around you for clues on practicing.  Do that as much, or more, than you look to your mentor for perfect sage advice.  If you don't have a "mentor" in the strictest sense of the word just look around. I'll bet your getting more advice for those you work with and for that you realize.

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