Mentoring. The word conjures up images of stilted conversations in senior partners’ offices, neither person really wanting to be there. No wonder many lawyers shy away from the idea entirely.
Mentoring can be highly rewarding, especially for solo and small firm attorneys—if we do it better. We have so much to learn from each other. We need to develop authentic relationships with people who know different things than we do, who are willing to share their knowledge, and with whom we are willing to expose our fears and weaknesses.
It may sound impossibly difficult, but there are simple steps we can all take.
Look for mentors and mentees you already know. Don’t be shy about asking for either role—people are more open to it than you might think, if you simply ask. A lot of pairings are mutual mentors to each other.
If there is someone you want to mentor you, but you don’t know them, consider a cold call. It is amazing what people are willing to do.
Once you establish a mentor/mentee relationship, utilize it. Call your mentor when you need them; call your mentee just to check in.
Prepare to talk about the hard subjects—money, politics, areas where you need to improve. Mentoring will be far more effective if you remove all puffery from the discussion and just be real.
Face fears with your mentor. Practice negotiations, role play, and dry-run candidly delivering bad news. Use your mentor as a sounding board to practice tough conversations where you have to sell yourself; practice advocating for yourself, including bragging about your achievements. See if you can pitch for yourself as well as you would advocate for a cause you believe in.
Use your mentor as a reality check. We often hold ourselves back; a mentor can see the reality when you cannot, and they can help push you out of your own way so you can thrive.
Mentoring is an ongoing mutually beneficial relationship that helps you grow. It is well worth investing time and effort, especially outside a traditional corporate structure.
About the author:
Megan Zavieh focuses her practice exclusively on attorney ethics, representing attorneys facing State Bar disciplinary action, providing guidance to practicing attorneys, podcasting, speaking to lawyers at industry conferences, and writing extensively for online and print publications. Megan is an advocate for reforming legal ethics rules to bring them in line with modern business practices. She is the former Chair of the Solo and Small Firm Section of the State Bar of California (now California Lawyers Association).