Teamwork and collaboration are essential to the success of every legal team, whether practicing, in-house across industries, a not-for-profit, or in a law firm. Legal leaders agree that teamwork and collaboration are essential to achieving better outcomes and financial gains for in-house or law firm clients.
Mentors are individuals who play a vital role in the success of a young lawyer’s professional development and, therefore, career. Mentors have an opportunity to provide the wisdom and training that may be lacking in a newly minted attorney. Mentors are the people that can introduce collaboration and teamwork to the young members of the firm or an in-house legal team. They can partner with and help develop the skills in their mentee that will contribute to their survival or aid them in flourishing in their career.
The American Bar Association mentions that 36 jurisdictions offer mentoring programs for young attorneys. Some provide mentor/mentee matching programs with written materials to help mentees outline their goals. However, our experience has been that the most valuable type of mentoring is the day-to-day guidance of a seasoned professional.
Most successful attorneys agree that their success is partly due to solid mentoring relationships early in their careers. A go-to mentor is akin to an excellent teacher or coach providing resources, verbal and written feedback on legal writing, the ins and outs of the practice of law, and their perspective on career navigation. Learning to communicate with clients, peers, and opposing counsel are colossal assets. Time management and meeting participation are skills often not covered in the law books.
The best mentoring relationships are the long-term ones. We are often asked, “what’s their law firm training?”. In other words, who were they coached or mentored by? Most in-house lawyers know the practice leaders of the firms they prefer to recruit from.
But, in this new normal, how do you effectively mentor a young lawyer remotely? Since the pandemic, personal and work lifestyles have changed dramatically.
A provocative question:
Should we all be concerned about how the pandemic will impact the next generation’s career development? We think the question merits serious consideration. How then can you be an exceptional virtual mentor in this changing work world?
Here are some strategies to consider:
- Check-in on a periodic basis. monthly or weekly meetings are great but checking in randomly shows empathy and interest to benefit your relationship.
- Get out of the formal setting. Meet outside if you can, have virtual group socials where you and your mentee can meet. Try a non-working video call where talk of work is not allowed.
- Ask the right questions. Open-ended, thought-provoking questions can help your mentee open their horizons.
If you are the mentee, make any one of these suggestions to your mentor. If you don’t have a formal or informal mentor, ask others how they secured a mentor. Is the process formal or informal? Follow the guidance of the cultural norms if they exist, and if they don’t, ask how a mentoring program might be created.
Mentoring has positive benefits for the mentor and their practice as well. With sufficient training, the “newer” attorney will be more independent and take on more work. A mentor can spot potential problems, address them, and resolve them before exposing them. Training young lawyers where they feel they can reach out for guidance and believe someone is there to help can reduce turnover.
Solid mentoring relationships are essential from the early stages of practicing law and heavily influence a lawyer’s trajectory. Being mentored or not can be pivotal to success or failure. The best mentoring relationships are long-term. When paired together with career advice, valuable coaching, and insider knowledge, they can increase the chances of a successful legal career.