Mentors are a great resource who can help bridge the gap between being a law student and being a well-rounded, experienced attorney. Many people look at mentors as a one-sided relationship: the mentor provides advice, answers questions and may even send some referrals to the mentee. Being on both sides of the mentor-mentee relationship, I can tell you the relationship is, or at least should be, mutually beneficial.
After law school, I accepted a clerkship position with a local Circuit Court. It was likely the best career move I could have ever made and it was there that I found my first mentor in the legal field. The judge I worked for primarily was not just a boss but was invested in me and improving my skills before I went to work as an attorney. He answered questions about the practice of law but did not limit them to only the practice of law. He answered questions about opening and then hopefully managing and sustaining a law firm. While our professional relationship has changed since leaving the clerkship position, as it should have, that judge provided me with my first experience being mentored and at the time, I didn’t even realize that was what was going on.
I often think about the advice that judge gave me on practicing law. The key, he said, is to always be honest. If you don’t know the answer, say so and tell them how you can find the answer.
Through my clerkship, I had the opportunity to observe, meet, interact and build relationships with many of the local attorneys. While the majority of those attorneys were wonderful and I still have relationships with them, there was one in particular who has helped me along my journey into becoming an experienced attorney.
One of the areas of law I wanted to practice, and continue to practice, is as a guardian ad litem, representing the interests of children. To do so, you have to have some experience under a current guardian ad litem and they must certify that you are able to be a guardian ad litem. The attorney I mentioned earlier who I met through my clerkship, happened to be one of the best guardian ad litems around. I was lucky enough to gain my guardian ad litem experience under him. After my official training was completed, I have spoken with him on many occasions for advice on broad topics such as the general duties of a guardian ad litem to specifics about how certain scenarios play out.
Those experiences are my most memorable informal mentoring relationships but I have also been lucky enough to have a formal mentoring relationship as well. When I opened my own law firm, I joined the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. And while I have not practiced much in the way of criminal defense, I obtained a valuable mentor through that association.
When you join the association, you can choose to have a mentor assigned to you, which I did. My mentor has answered countless questions, provided me guidance on how to obtain answers he may not know the answer to and provided me general comfort knowing I had someone who wanted to see me succeed. To my mentors, even if they didn’t realize I considered them mentors, I will be forever thankful and will always credit them with my success as an attorney and in life.
As a result of my mentors being so wonderful, I have been fortunate enough to run my own law firm that is continually growing. Recently, I was contacted by some other local attorneys who wanted to know if I would be interested in mentoring; this time as the mentor. Something really awesome happened in Richmond over the past year or so: attorneys came together to realize the need and value for mentoring younger attorneys and two of those attorneys opened the Richmond Legal Development Center.
The Richmond Legal Development Center provides a place for newer attorneys to get on their feet. They are provided with the resources to start their own firm and a list of mentors to help them along their way. Each year, a new group of attorneys will take their place as the outgoing group of attorneys move on to practice law outside of the Development Center. While all of the mentors are available and willing to help all of the attorneys, each attorney is paired with a mentor who is there to be their primary resource. However, like me, not all mentors are paired with an attorney. Though I was not directly paired with a new attorney, one attorney reached out to me because he looked into each mentors background and thought I would be the most able to help him in his specific circumstances and goals. Instantaneously, our mentorship relationship began.
As a mentor, I do the typical things all mentors do: answer questions, provide referrals if I can and periodically check in to make sure everything is going well. It has been through this experience that I learned that a mentorship relationship should be mutually beneficial. Through my mentoring, I am forced to constantly “check-in” with myself and make sure I am following my own advice. It forces me to think through how I want my law practice to look and what long-term impression I want to leave with my clients. Above all, it forces me to make sure I am leading with the best example I can; no one likes to take advice from someone who isn’t already taking their own advice.
To sum it all up: the legal world needs mentors. You need a mentor. And you need a mentee. To keep our profession growing, we need to continue to forge these types of mutually-beneficial relationships. If you need a mentor, ask. Join your local bar associations. Join state and national bar associations in your practice areas. Talk to people and tell them what you do and what you want to do. And when you find someone you think could help you, simply ask them to help you. If you want to mentor, ask. Talk to people and tell them what you do and what you want to do. And when you find someone who needs your help, ask them if they would like your help.
Featured image: “Learn and lead” from Shutterstock.