The Magic of Mentors
This post originally appeared online on May 12, 2014 on American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center here.
On any given day, at any given time, I usually have about four hundred things going through my head. I am slightly obsessive over things that matter to me, and that pretty much means I never stop thinking.
As a relatively new attorney (newer than most people think), this hamster wheel that is in my brain has to also learn the practice of law as well as run the business and do the marketing and the relationship building at the same time. Many times all of this is very overwhelming, especially since law school doesn’t really teach you about the practice of law at all, unless you are involved in one of the special clinics which allow you to work on actual cases. I never took any of those clinics, and the small amount of work I did for a civil litigation firm while I was sill in school was not nearly enough to teach me anything about how to file divorces and the motion practice and procedure that would be involved.
I am lucky that I have cultivated a few mentors to whom I can ask questions when I have them, although sometimes I feel bad because I ask a LOT of questions and I am sure that can be exhausting for the mentors as well. I started with one mentor, and now I have about three so I can share the insanity/love with all of them.
Not only is it important to have a few mentors so they can help you and so you can run your ideas by them, but also because each mentor might have a different perspective or way of explaining something that might click with you better than another one of your mentors.
Some of my mentors I found just by serendipity. I was at the right CLE at the right time, and asked another attorney who was presenting (who happened to be one of my professors from law school) if she had any mentors she could connect me to. Sure enough, there was a mentor right in front of my face. Turns out he is a great teacher and at this point, we have also become good friends.
Many people have asked me how to find mentors if they don’t know anyone. My first response is always about the importance of connecting with people and networking and building relationships and if they aren’t doing that already, then they should start immediately.
My second answer is to not be afraid to cold call attorneys and see if they will help you. Most attorneys who are fellow alumni are always willing to help other young lawyers. I used my school’s career services office for this purpose: there had been a career fair a few months prior, and all of the alumni contact information and background summaries were bound in a booklet that was handed out to all attendees. I did not attend the fair, but the career services office gave me the booklet anyway and suggested I reach out to some of the attorneys listed.
I emailed one attorney and to my surprise, I actually heard back from him. Notwithstanding the fact that he was super busy and he said his responses might be slow, he was totally open to helping me as a mentor. I haven’t reached out to him again thus far, but it is nice to know that there are people out there who are willing to help you – all you need to do is ask.
Another option is to reach out to your professors and ask them if they can connect you to someone – and every student knows a few professors, so there is no excuse as to why you can’t reach out to them. Every chance encounter (and planned encounter) is an opportunity to talk about what you do. You can’t be shy about this because if you are shy, the people you meet won’t know how they can help you.
It is also good to remember that maybe you can help them in some way. These are the most rewarding relationships I think. Be open to thinking about the bigger picture of how your relationship with your mentor can grow and don’t let yourself get caught up in focusing on your present need for answers from them.
Don’t get me wrong, if you need immediate help, then of course you should focus on the issues you need help with. However don’t forget that there is a lot of potential for a longer term mentor-mentee friendship, and if you find a mentor like that, I can promise that those relationships will become one of the many highlights of practicing law.