It can be exciting to forge your own career path, but sooner or later most legal professionals find that they need someone to encourage them to get to the next level. One way to get this kind of career stimulation is by working with a mentor.
A mentor is someone experienced in the industry who encourages someone else in their personal and professional growth. This person can spot strengths and weaknesses that mentees don’t know even existed and offer constructive criticism that helps move careers forward.
The right mentor provides the advice and guidance that can help a mentee reach goals that would have been impossible alone.
What having a mentor means for legal professionals
In order to retain employees and compete in today’s marketplace, law firms need employees with varied experience and backgrounds. Mentorship can allow skilled professionals to pass on the necessary skills, knowledge, and wisdom to those who need it, enabling more and more people to succeed.
As you consider finding a mentor, think about what you most want from the relationship. Are you looking for insight into a specific problem? Have gaps in your experience that you need guidance on? Or maybe you don’t know what you don’t know. The better you can gauge what you want, the better you’ll be able to measure success and vet possible mentors.
What to look for in a mentor
Whether you’re looking to gain confidence, develop skills, even to qualify for a job promotion, as you look for a mentor, consider:
Because you will be spending a lot of time with your mentor, you should choose someone who you feel compatible with. Is it easy to talk to this person? Do you feel comfortable asking questions and seeking feedback?
If you aren’t able to interact freely with your mentor, you won’t be getting the full value of the experience.
You will likely benefit more from a mentor who encourages you to step out of your comfort zone to get a different perspective on your career. Don’t be afraid to be mentored by someone who is different than you in terms of age, experience, opinions, or gender.
You want a mentor with enough experience to guide you through the challenges you are facing. While straight years of experience matter, you’ll also benefit by working with someone who has been involved in similar situations or started from a similar point. Find someone who has navigated through their share of challenges, and has learned enough to pass on.
You will likely be sharing private information with your mentor, so trust is very important. Understand that it will take some time to build this trust even with the most highly-recommended mentor.
After a while, you will have established some ground rules, learned each other’s communication styles, and built a foundation from which to move forward.
Finding the right mentor
Start looking for the right mentor by considering:
Your professional association
One of the benefits of joining a professional organization is the opportunity it provides to find a mentor. In an association, you’re surrounded by people who are actively engaged in the industry. Fellow association members are likely to be proactive about learning and interested in contributing to the community of professionals.
Some of the people you work with have probably worked with a mentor or know someone who has. Why not ask them for recommendations? Or ask an experienced member. Even if your firm doesn’t have a formal mentoring program, senior employees and colleagues you admire might still serve as your mentor if you’re willing to ask.
Your firm’s mentoring program
If your firm has a formal mentoring program, consider taking advantage of it. Mentors who participate in such programs usually have the skills, work habits, and personality traits that are valued at your particular office. So participating in such a program will give you a sense of the firm’s culture and values as well as a boost for whatever is next.
When choosing a mentor, you should look for someone who isn’t afraid to ask you the difficult questions, will challenge you to improve yourself and is prepared to give you honest feedback, positive or negative. This is the kind of mentor who is most likely to help you reach your goals and achieve legal career success.