One of the most popular articles in the last issue of
LawPracticeToday was Wendy
Werner's article on mentoring. In response to the
interest, we decided to make mentoring the focus of this
issue of LPT.
We have collected some great articles on mentoring.
Both mentors and mentees will find practical advice
and insights on how to make a mentoring relationships
work better. Regardless of whether you are planning
to enter into a more formal mentoring relationship or
program, or already in one, you will find direction
on how to prepare for, structure, and participate in
a mentoring relationship.
Mentoring is a tradition that has withstood the test
of time—and today is making a comeback. Back
in the 13th century, when judges had to provide for
the apprenticeship of lawyers, mentoring was the only
way lawyers could learn their craft. Today, although
legal training is more formalized, interest in mentoring
persists. Why? Because mentoring was, and continues
to be, one of the most effective ways to pass on skills,
knowledge and wisdom, and train the next generation
A number of factors have brought mentoring back into
vogue: increased concern with incivility in the profession;
a desire to improve the profession’s public image;
and a growing recognition that the profession of law
is becoming the business of law. Both sole practitioners
and lawyers at law firms are now recognizing that mentoring
makes good business sense.
What is Mentoring
If you ask 10 different people to define mentoring,
you will get 10 different answers. Although there are
dozens of more complex definitions, at its most basic
level mentoring is the passing on of skills, knowledge,
and wisdom from one person to another.
Mentoring relationships can be informal and unstructured,
more complex and procedure-based, or somewhere in between.
But no matter what form they take, the structure of
the relationship is not as important as the learning
that occurs. We all thrive when we learn in the presence
and with the help of others who have gone before us.
Mentors do more than simply pass on knowledge and information.
They impart lessons on the art and science of living,
and, in the case of lawyers, the art and science of
the practice of law. And through the very act of mentoring,
they help others acquire vital knowledge and skills
more quickly, and often more effectively, than if it
was acquired through the “school of hard knocks.”
The New Style of Mentoring
In many ways, today’s mentoring relationships
function quite differently from those of the past.
In the traditional style of mentoring, the primary
goal was a one-way transfer of a broad range of knowledge
or information. The mentor was the authoritarian source
of this information, and directed all other aspects
of the mentoring relationship. The mentee was a passive
recipient and often had little say or control in the
relationship. The relationship lasted for a set period
of time, and a mentee would have only one mentor. Mentoring
would only occur on a face-to-face basis.
Today many mentoring relationships have evolved to
become more focused on learning. Unlike the traditional
model, learner-centered mentoring is a dynamic and two-way
relationship that involves critical reflection and full
participation by both partners. The mentor assumes a
role of a facilitator. The mentee becomes a proactive
and equal partner, helping direct the relationship and
set its goals. The mentee can also have multiple mentors
over a lifetime, and even concurrently. There will still
be face-to-face interaction, but mentoring can also
occur by telephone, e-mail, or other means.
There is no right way to mentor. Every mentoring relationship
is as unique as the individuals involved in it. However,
no matter who the individuals or what shape the relationship
takes, setting some goals and completing some groundwork
can help create a stronger and more productive relationship.
for a Mentoring Relationship article reviews the
steps that mentors and mentees should consider as they
prepare to engage in a mentoring relationship.
Mentoring can be difficult at times, and every mentoring
relationship must find its own equilibrium and path.
As the relationship progresses, there are several things
that mentor and mentee can to do make it work better.
These include things like communication and candid feedback,
and pro-actively working to overcome obstacles. For
more ideas on how you can improve an ongoing mentoring
relationship, see the Making
an Ongoing Mentoring Relationship Stronger and More
Many firms now see mentoring as a key part of educating
new associates in a way that increases their skills
and ultimately integrates them as fill and productive
members of a firm. The Mentoring
Associates: It’s Ssimply Good for Business
article highlights what several Canadian firms are doing
with their mentoring programs.
Why Mentoring is Good for the Legal Profession
Mentoring not only benefits the individuals involved,
but also pays dividends for the profession as a whole.
Sole practitioners, lawyers who are just starting out
at a law firm, or lawyers who are moving into a new
area of practice can learn from the experience of others
through a mentoring relationship.
If you practice in a law firm you likely take for granted
the fact there is a confidant down the hall who is instantly
and easily accessible if a question arises. If you are
a sole practitioner, you will appreciate this is a luxury
that you don’t have. Mentoring can help newly
called lawyers get a leg up on the incredible amount
of learning that lies ahead. Law schools and bar courses
simply cannot impart the skills and experience that
are critical for practising law proficiently.
No matter what the background of the participants,
a mentoring relationship can accelerate the process
through which critical skills are gained, and can help
prevent mistakes. When individual lawyers more quickly
increase their skills to become an integral part of
the profession and the administration of justice, the
profession itself benefits.
Some Common Mentoring Myths
The myths that often deter prospective mentors and
mentees from participating in mentoring relationships
are, as this section points out, just that: common misperceptions
based on inaccurate information.
Myth: Mentoring will
take too much time
Fact: Participants in mentoring relationships
consistently report that mentoring takes less time than
they expected. One or two short phone calls a week often
is all that is required in a less formal relationship.
A more formal relationship will take more time. In either
case, the key to dealing with the issue of time is effective
time management. From the outset, participants need
to have consistent expectations on the amount of time
to be spent on the relationship; and they need to make
the most efficient use of their time together.
Myth: Only seasoned practitioners
make good mentors
Fact: Unfortunately, many lawyers
who have been in practice for five or ten years do not
consider themselves to be potential mentors. In fact,
they are often in a better position to mentor than those
who have been practising 15 to 20 or more years. The
five-to-ten year lawyer has more current experience
handling the issues that a young lawyer may be struggling
with, and thus may be in a better position to help.
Recognizing this reality, many law firms today are
assigning senior associates to mentor new junior associates,
while the senior associates are being mentored by partners.
Myth: Mentor and mentee
must be in the same place
Fact: In traditional mentoring relationships,
the mentor and mentee were usually in one place and
interaction occurred on a face-to-face basis. However,
new ways of communicating, via the Web, e-mail, and
other new technologies today make long-distance mentoring
more feasible and more common.
The key to successful long-distance mentoring is a
shared understanding of how and when communications
will occur. While some face-to-face meetings may be
necessary, telephone calls and/or e-mails often are
satisfactory for most subsequent discussions.
A principal benefit of long-distance mentoring is that
it significantly expands the field of mentors available
to any one lawyer. This is especially useful for those
who practice in smaller communities where a suitable
mentor may not be available locally, or in situations
where the only local mentor candidate is a lawyer who
often acts on the other side of matters you handle.
Myth: Only young lawyers can benefit
from being a mentee
Fact: Mentoring can and does benefit
even an experienced lawyer. For example, if you are
expanding your practice into a new area of law, access
to a lawyer with experience in that area of law would
significantly reduce your learning curve. Similarly,
an experienced lawyer joining a new firm could benefit
from a short-term mentoring relationship. Having a mentor
ensures that the new law firm member is more quickly
integrated into the firm, including matters such as
the firm’s procedures, and is introduced to its
clients and contacts.
The pressures of today’s fast-changing practice
climate make it more important than ever for lawyers
to work to improve their skills. Regardless of whether
you are a sole practitioner starting out on your own,
or a new associate joining a law firm, mentoring is
an excellent way for you to more quickly gain the skills
that are critical for a successful law practice.
Mentoring also pays tremendous benefits for mentors,
both personally and professionally. Nor do you have
to be a seasoned practitioner to act as a mentor: In
fact, lawyers in practice for as little as five years
can often better relate to the concerns of a new lawyer.
Consider getting involved in a mentoring relationship,
either as a mentor or a mentee. If you work at a law
firm, try to develop a mentoring program and culture
at your firm. There is no doubt, being involved in a
mentoring relationship requires an investment of time
and effort. Whether you are the mentor or mentee, you’ll
likely discover this investment provides an enriching
learning experience that will pay you generous dividends,
and benefit the profession.
Dan Pinnington (dan.Pinnington@lawpro.ca)
works for the Lawyers' Professional Indemnity Company
to help the 20,000 practising lawyers in Ontario avoid
malpractice claims. He speaks and writes frequently
on a variety of risk management and legal technology
topics. Through practicePRO (www.practicepro.ca)
he provides Ontario lawyers with practical how-to resources
aimed at helping them succeed in the practice of law.