New lawyers need real mentors. Not the type of mentors who are assigned by the firm to be sure that you know what is expected of you in terms of docketed hours and evening and weekend work, but the type of mentors who care about your success and your progression in the profession.
Here are ten things that real mentors do:
- They explain how the profession works. They teach you things such as: (i) the partners care about your recorded time, not how many hours you are working. Learn to docket well or perish quickly in private practice; and (ii) either develop a client base or perish over time in private practice
- They ensure that the work that you are being given is appropriate to your experience level. It is kind of like Goldilocks. Not so easy that you are not being given the opportunity to develop your skills; not so hard that that you are getting frustrated and just want to throw in the towel; but just right.
- They run interference with those in the firm who would abuse you. What constitutes abuse? Piling on too much work. Giving you ridiculously short deadlines. Giving you priorities which conflict with those given to you by other lawyers and making it your problem to sort it out. Assigning you work without giving you feedback to assist in your development. Keeping you in the ‘back room’ and excluding you from client meetings, negotiations, and strategy sessions. Interfering with your scheduled time off. Yelling. Sarcasm. Generally being a jerk.
- They mirror for you how to relate to colleagues, law clerks, articling students and support staff.
- They teach you how to be respectful of your clients.
- They train you to work to deadlines and delegate effectively.
- They introduce you to existing firm clients and allow those clients to develop an independent relationship with you.
- They teach you how to market yourself, including how to work a room, make conversation with potential clients, and ‘do lunch.’
- They encourage you to develop your own client base.
- They encourage your participation in client events.
Here is how to tell if you have a real mentor or a firm-appointed lackey: Ask yourself how much of the mentoring that you are getting is designed to support the firm and/or the supervising lawyer, and how much is intended to make you succeed as a professional, whether or not you remain with the firm. Of course, those two goals will often coincide. But when they don’t, what advice are they giving you?