The following links are hard-earned links. You will find that most of the search terms you can construct for lawyer mentoring will generate a large amount of unrelated hits (or “noise”). You will find a large amount of membership-only or pay-only information on this topic. Finally, you will find, and appropriately so, Web sites of consulting groups that focus on lawyer mentoring. It will also become clear that Ida Abbot’s classic book, The Lawyer’s Guide to Mentoring, will cast a large shadow over your search results.
To find this set of links, I relied heavily on a premium subscription research tool at LegalRA.com to power-search multiple search engines simultaneously. I also followed links I found “by hand” in a classic web-surfing style. Finally, I used a few new blog-related search tools.
That leads to my first comment as your link-finding mentor: over-reliance on Google or any other single search engine can raise serious problems for certain types of searches and you must be more circumspect about trusting Google results.
For many years, I have been telling law students that the one thing that you really want to find in your first law job is a mentor. No other factor will have as much impact on your abilities as a lawyer and your likelihood of having a rewarding legal career. It will also have an amazing impact on some of your day-to-day office habits. I still can’t believe how even today I take notes and work with files just like Bill Hobson does. His approach echoes what he learned from a partner at White & Case. And so it goes.
Unfortunately, there is nothing that law school prepares you for less than for the task of finding a mentor. In some lucky cases, it just happens. However, if you look closely at some “lucky” cases, you will see that they involve the classic model of opportunity meeting preparation.
I’ve noticed that lawyers who had one or more great coaches tend to do well in finding mentors. Several people have told me that working with a great coach early in life leads them to continue to look for the next great coach.
Mentoring is a subject that will reward you many times over for the study and effort that you put into it. Mentoring requires a complex dynamic, not the least of which is the perfect timing of the meeting of a teacher ready to teach and a student ready to learn from that teacher.
This summer, I was watching, originally by chance and then with complete fascination, a show on the Bravo network called “Blow Out.” It is a reality show that covers the story of Jonathan Antin, a superstar hair stylist, as he works to open a new salon in Beverly Hills. Although the show has nothing to do with the practice of law, it has a lot to do with working with people and starting a business. I had watched about a show-and-a-half and then I had a revelation that I could see many of my traits and patterns in starting my own business revealed in many of Jonathan’s efforts. I learned a lot from that and there are some important changes I am making as a direct result.
However, more important, in one plot line the show played out a classic mentor/protégé relationship dynamic that will reward you for the time you spend watching it, especially if you are or have been in a mentoring situation. I won’t go into the details other than to say to watch Jonathan try to reach the point where he can let his long-time assistant “graduate” to cut hair in her own chair. If you watch carefully and consider what you have done in similar situations, I predict that you may well learn more than you will from all of the great tips, ideas, and wisdom in all of the resources described below. The trouble is that you may not like what it shows about you or the “you” of the past. For the “you” in the future, however, you will see ways to do things much better.
To be honest, it was all I could do not to call several people I’ve mentored over the years and demand that they watch the shows to let me know if I had ever gotten as crazy as Jonathan occasionally gets (in every case, with the best of intentions, which is part of the reason the scenes are so compelling – it’s an epic struggle with himself). Fortunately, frantic phone calls are not my style and I’m reasonably confident that my low-key approach made for a much smoother experience. But I know that I’ll ask them, eventually. In fact, in a few cases, I already have.
As we get older, mentoring becomes a necessary stage in a healthy and rewarding professional career. We each carry with us the lessons of those teachers who taught us and the teachers who taught them. The best of those lessons are what we must pass on to those who are willing and able to carry them forward to keep the historical chain intact.
As for me, when it comes to mentors, I prefer to think that I’ve been more blessed than lucky. At so many places in my professional career, I can point to mentors – Bill Hobson, Stan Brown, Tom Venker, the late George Adolf, Pat Bush, to name a few of the most important. But, for me, when I look up the word “mentor” in the dictionary, I’ll always see a picture of Bert Stern. I have a link for him as well – it’s to a set of comments I put together as an editor on the occasion of his retirement: http://www.denniskennedy.com/wd97.htm#RememBert1.
The links in this column are very useful, but the best exercise you can do, even before you read them, is to take a few minutes to start to answer the question, “Who are my mentors?” Then, as our mothers tried to teach us, remember to write those thank you notes.
PracticePro’s “Mentoring 101”
(http://www.lawpro.ca/lawpro/LawPROmagazine1.pdf ) and “Managing a Mentoring Relationship” PDF booklet (http://www.practicepro.ca/practice/Mentoring_Booklet.pdf) – You will be hard-pressed to find better, more comprehensive, free resources on mentoring than these materials. They cover all of the practical issues and make a great starting point. Thanks to my friend and Law Practice Today co-editor Dan Pinnington for pointing me toward these resources.
Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s Mentoring “Gold Book,” Mentoring Across Differences: A Guide to Cross-Gender and Cross-Race Mentoring (http://www.mcca.com/site/data/researchprograms/GoldPathways/index.shtml) – This online book is a fantastic resource. It’s both comprehensive and practical. It has a number of great checklists (e.g., “Establishing Mentor Programs in Law Firms Checklist” - PDF). The material focusing on cross-gender and cross-race mentoring is incredibly valuable. I wish that I would have had this information many years ago. This book deserves much more attention than it has gotten so far.
ALA’s Mentoring Programs Portal (http://tinyurl.com/4x7rz) – The Association of Legal Administrators has a good starting point for legal mentoring resources. You will quickly see that, while many good articles and resources are available for free, some potentially useful information is available only to members. On the other hand, your firm’s administrator might well be a member, or, if not, probably should be.
Ida Abbot, “Learning from Your Mentor” (http://www.law.com/special/professionals/pay/fy_2000_09_05h.shtml) – As I mentioned, Ida wrote the book of lawyer mentoring (Abbot, Ida O. Esq. (2000) The Lawyer's Guide to Mentoring. Washington, D.C.: National Association of Law Placement ISBN: 1-55733-020-4). This article is a solid, helpful summary of her excellent insights into lawyer mentoring.
Mentors Peer Resources (http://www.mentors.ca/) - Lots of great resources. Some are free and some require a paid membership. Rey Carr’s tips at http://www.mentors.ca/mentorideas.html will give you a flavor for some of the useful information you can find on this site. As an aside, it is interesting how frequently Canadian resources show up in lawyer mentoring searches.
Vinson & Elkins New Lawyer Mentoring Program Handbook (http://www.vinson-elkins.com/pdf/overview/NewLawyerMentoringHandbook.pdf) – I chose the Vinson & Elkins Handbook as a representative example of the types of mentoring programs law firms are creating. At one of my former firms, The Stolar Partnership, we developed an associate training system that used mentors over ten years ago that paid significant dividends for the firm in terms of retention and partner development. In today’s legal market, I believe that any associate should have reservations about joining any firm that does not have some kind of formal associate mentoring program. I would also be surprised to find that a firm that (1) did not have a mentoring program and (2) was not actively considering implementing a mentoring program.
Ellen Ostrow, “Mentoring: Constructing a Personal Advisory Board” (http://www.lawyerslifecoach.com/articles/story_15.html) - A solid and practical article that focuses on the how-tos of creating an “advisory board” of mentors.
Wendy Werner, “The Importance of Mentoring” (http://www.abanet.org/lpm/lpt/articles/mgt07041.html) – This article was the seed for the mentoring theme of this issue of Law Practice Today. Wendy and I worked together for quite a few years on the St. Louis Minority Clerkship Program and there is probably not much that I know about lawyer recruiting and hiring that I did not learn from a conversation with Wendy. This article has some great insights and tips on mentoring.
Missouri Bar’s Lawyer Mentoring Program (http://www.mobar.org/feature/featurem.htm) – OK, I’m a member of the Missouri Bar and wanted to highlight some of the great work the Missouri Bar and its staff in particular do. This link will give you a good example of the types of state bar mentoring programs you can find. There are also mentoring programs with law schools and other associations, including the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s annual leadership mentoring program. A good example of the resources you can find in these programs is the American Intellectual Property
Law Association Mentoring Guidelines (http://tinyurl.com/56d9n PDF). These programs provide some good opportunities to get your feet wet with the whole notion of mentoring, especially if you are a solo.
Books. Even a quick search on “mentoring” at Amazon.com will show you that there are many excellent books now available on the subject of monitoring that can help you become a better mentor, become a better protégé, and, most importantly, develop realistic expectations about the process. A book that is not explicitly about mentoring, but that gives an incredible amount of wise advice for young lawyers (and the lawyers who hire them) is Kimm Alayne Walton’s classic What Law School Doesn't Teach You: But You Really Need to Know, which contains a few of my recommendations for young lawyers among the treasure chest of wise advice it gives.
A Final Thought.
Let me give you a little warning about delving into this topic. If, like me, you have twenty years or more in the practice of law, it will be difficult for you to read through these resources and not be affected, even moved, by them. If you go down this trail, expect to be devoting some extra time to mentoring this year, but probably at a more rewarding level than ever before. Very early in my legal career, I met a lawyer who took me to lunch and gave me a ton of useful advice. He told me that all he wanted in return was my promise that I would do the same thing that he had done for others when I had the chance. He didn’t tell me, but I later learned, that continuing that tradition would be one of my favorite parts of being a lawyer. How about you?