By Julie Cummings • September 05, 2016•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence, Careers, Other Career Issues, Law School, Pre-Law, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Internships and Clerkships, •Other Law School Issues, Issues, Mentoring and Networking
“I’ve been through half a dozen other lieutenants just like you.”
“You guys all come and go.”
“Meanwhile, we stay here and keep things running.”
“So you stay out of my way, and I’ll stay out of yours, and we’ll get along just fine.”
Then he went outside to smoke a cigarette – one of many he would light up throughout the day.
Tim was gruff, outspoken, and not used to working with women. Most of his Army aviation career was spent working in special forces units, units comprised solely of males. But as a brand new lieutenant in a conventional Army aviation unit, I was his new platoon leader, and he now worked for me.
I was but a blip in his radar, a lieutenant like all the others before me, full of idealism, and no real practical experience yet. He would tolerate me until my assignment ended, when yet another new lieutenant would take my place. Tim, meanwhile, would remain in the same position, an expert pilot, continuing to perfect his craft.
Yet as time passed, things gradually changed between us. We began to fly regularly together. I listened to everything he said, striving to implement the new skills he taught. It was mostly a one-way street – him teaching, me learning. And just like that, quite by accident, Tim became one of the best mentors I have ever had, despite our first few strained months together.
Two years later, when my time at that aviation unit concluded, Tim and I held a mutual respect for one another. He had become the most unlikely of mentors, and I credit him with molding me into a better officer and pilot.
As new law students and new lawyers, we all need mentors. We need someone with more experience who will shepherd us through the early phases of our newfound legal profession. We all need a Tim.
Sometimes finding a mentor comes more easily than it did for me. Other times, mentors emerge from the unlikeliest of people. The point is to be open to all possibilities.
In law school you will encounter many sources for mentors. Professors, employers, and bar association contacts make up just a few possible places from which you may find a mentor. Though each source may contain a person who is the perfect fit for you, resist the urge to grasp at someone simply because you think you need to find a mentor fast. You don’t.
Instead, engage in activities that expose you to top-notch people. Stop by to chat with professors with whom you click, or sit down for coffee with an employer and learn about their career. If nothing more than good conversation emerges, you are out nothing.
But, if over the course of time something special begins to happen, and you realize that someone is willing to help you navigate your new legal career, you may have found the perfect mentor. If so, nurture the relationship, and learn everything you can from that person. Put aside your own ego, the one that wants to show how competent you are, and instead just listen and learn.
Your future self will thank you for the professional enrichment that an amazing mentor provides.
Did you find an amazing mentor early in your legal career? If so, please share your story below in the comments section.
Julie Cummings is one of Ms. JD’s 2016 Writers in Residence. Her monthly column, Soldier On: Boot Camp to Law School translates valuable military skills into strategies for succeeding in law school.