Mentors Matter: Some of the Best Advice I’ve Received from Mentors
By Kristin Holland • July 18, 2014•Writers in Residence, Careers, Firms and the Private Sector, Other Career Issues, Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life, •Mentoring and Networking
I've been practicing law for 18 years. In that time, I've externed for a Federal Bankruptcy Judge and worked at three different firms. I've read many articles on how to make it in a man's world, how to succeed in BigLaw, how to attain work life balance and how to be happy. Here are some of the best bits of wisdom I've accumulated from mentors over these almost two decades:
(1) Hard working lawyers beat lazy lawyers 99% of the time.
Here's the truth: preparation is probably more important than the highest I.Q. in most legal situations. If you are blessed with exceptional intellect, there is a temptation to cut corners, be a little less diligent or wait for inspiration to come. The slow and steady lawyer, who diligently prepares, is thorough, shows up early and takes good notes is much more likely to win than the lawyer who flies by the seat of her pants. This doesn't mean that you need to work endless hours or make work where none is needed. But the winners put in the time.
(2) There is no balance, only a comfortable blend.
If I have to sit through one more work life balance seminar, I'm going to scream. There is no balance when you have email on your cell phone, you work in many time zones and everyone expects an answer in minutes. But the fact that you can monitor emails and calls all the time, from anywhere, means that you don't always have to be at your desk. And you don't have to announce that you are away. If you service your clients, you can do it remotely. How remotely is up to you.
(3) The client is always right.
Except in the rare case where you know the client is breaking the law, the client's needs are paramount and right. If you don't like working for the client, then either don't take the case or don't keep the case. But if you are someone's trusted counsel, and they ask you for help, you help them to the best of your abilities, as promptly as you can. You give them your honest and thoughtful advice, but their needs and business decisions are the ones that you help implement.
(4) Life is long.
If you are lucky, life is long and minor bumps in the road pass into history with time. During a painful performance review, I was told "life is long" and I would have to wait another year for a promotion. It was couched in platitudes about how young I was, how talented, but how it just wasn't my time, and that if I put in one more year of great work, next year I would be considered for the promotion. I hated this advice. One more year of work seemed like an eternity after so many which preceded it. But I know now that the advice was right. The additional year went quickly, I was promoted and later I was grateful that I had the additional time to mature and hone my skills before being saddled with even greater responsibility. It's now many years later and this delay meant not much if anything in my career.
(5) Life is short.
But for many people, including some of your most dear loved ones and friends, life ends tragically soon. If you have known the loss of parent, friend, sibling or co-worker at a young age, you know what I'm talking about. Don't defer your dreams for retirement. Don't take today for granted. Live with purpose and if you are unhappy, have the courage to change course now. Don't waste another minute in a job you hate, earning money to buy things you don't need.
(6) Be of service.
Whenever I feel like I don't belong, or don't know what my role is, I just look for something to do to be of service. It could be making a connection for someone, volunteering to be a mentor, taking a pro bono case for someone who can't afford a lawyer, or just being kind to a co-worker who is having a bad day. Whatever it is, just help out and life is much easier.
(7) Don't criticize the person writing the check.
If you don't like your employer, you still need to do a good job until you find another place to work. Don't complain about the person writing the check. I have not always followed this advice, and sometimes you can offer ideas or constructive feedback to make positive changes. But if those go nowhere, remember that your boss is paying your rent, so instead of criticizing the person who is writing your checks, just find another employer. If you can't, then you need to work on improving your skills and marketability, which might include cultivating a better attitude at the job you currently have.
(8) Keep your nose to the grindstone.
Much of my 20s and 30s were spent working very hard. In my 40s I'm able to enjoy some of the fruits of that labor. I would not have the freedom to move from Los Angeles to Honolulu and start a new job here if I had not worked hard, saved and made great connections during my 18 years of practice. My dad always told me to "keep your nose to the grindstone" when I would call him and complain about how hard my job was. He would remind me that my job was a great job, it was a privilege and that it would pay off later. He was right. But it was a lot of long days and nights in the office, lots of stress, cancelled plans, interrupted vacations and failed relationships. Now I am working hard, and will keep working hard until I'm ready to retire, but I'm more aware of the costs and have made significant life changes so that I can work happy too.
(9) Embrace change.
Switching jobs and cities has been a huge change for me. Most of the time I find it exciting. Some of the time I am terrified. I read somewhere that fear and excitement are the same physiological response. I'm not sure if that is scientifically accurate, but I like to think that a slight attitude shift changes being afraid to being EXCITED instead. Embracing change and feeling excited about all the possibilities are great ways to deal with stress and lead a happy life.
(10) Stay connected with old friends.
One of my mentors has taught me that loyalty and remaining connected with old friends are paramount values. This is especially important advice since I now practice on a rather remote island. Email, Facebook, phone calls and visits are things that I do daily. Your old friends are great. They knew you when you were a child, or a college student or a baby lawyer. They are invaluable treasures.
Mentors matter and I hope that this advice from my mentors helps you with your life challenges this month.
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