I think that recognizing our lack of knowledge on life as an attorney, client relationships, practice areas, and more, is one of the most important things that we can do as young attorneys. We cannot expect to know as much as we would like to, and let’s face it–we’re going to make mistakes. Lots of them. The important thing for us to do, once we recognize: 1) that we don’t have all of the knowledge we would like; and 2) we are going to excel at some things an fail at others, is figure out how to learn the most we can from people who have made the mistakes we have made and will make, and have more knowledge than we do. Mentorship is vehicle through which we can do that.
I am thankful for the St. Thomas Mentor Externship Program–more now than when I was a still a student. From day one of law school, students are matched up with practicing attorneys, in-house counsel, or judges who provide unique insight into life as a law student, practice in the Twin Cities, and numerous experiences to sit in on, including depositions, trials, oral arguments, and more. Prior to the start of the semester, students fill out a survey based on their background, interests, practice areas of interest, and any other specifications that students would like to have taken into consideration in their mentor match.
This model can be a helpful guide for post-graduation mentorship, and how we, as prospective mentees, can shape our experience. Here are some pointers that I think can help guide our mentorship post-law school and in practice:
1) Choosing Your Mentor
Find someone with similar values — you want the advice and guidance you receive to reflect and consider what is important to you. It would also be helpful to choose a mentor who has a similar kind of practice (transactional, litigation, in-house counsel, non-profit, government, or other), and if applicable, a similar practice area. There are unique obstacles, demands and lessons based on the field of practice — an immediate understanding from someone you trust will form an invaluable foundation for sound counsel. Finally, make sure you would feel comfortable being completely open (including sharing mistakes) with your mentor and that he or she has the time (depending on your expectation) to commit.
2) Create a Plan
Have goals in mind of what you want to learn, explore, and experience throughout the course of your relationship with your mentor, including what you want to talk about, experiences you want to share (perhaps attending an MSBA or other social function and meeting some of your mentor’s colleagues), and how often (aspirationally) you want to meet. Although your goals will obviously be your own, talk with your mentor about realistic expectations in terms of monthly or bimonthly commitments. Consider putting this in writing, so that you can reference it when necessary.
3) Share Your Plan
Share your plan with your mentor and get your mentor’s feedback/ involvement in the plan, to the extent necessary. Be sure to share your interests with your mentor (i.e. kind of practice, long-term plans, pro bono work, an organization, etc.) so that your mentor can keep you on the radar to connect you with people who share those interests or can point you in the right direction. It will also be helpful for your mentor to know your goals, so that he or she can keep you accountable on them to ensure that you are making progress. The more your mentor knows about you, your goals, and your interests, the more your mentor can push you, ask you tough questions, and generally invest in you.
4) Be Open to “Informal” Mentors
These can be people who influence your practice and life and either aren’t available for a “formal” mentorship or those whom you know you will generally see throughout the course of your practice. This might also be a good option if you don’t initially feel comfortable with any formal mentorship.
It is really up to us to shape how and when we want to grow throughout the course of our careers. If you’re interested in some additional mentorship-related readings, check these out for good guidelines and feedback on mentoring:
“Powerful Partnerships” by Chato Hazelbacher, available at http://www.stthomas.edu/lawmagazine/2010/Summer2010/PowerfulPartnerships.html
“Is Mentoring Worth It” by Dave Bateson, available at http://www.stthomas.edu/lawmagazine/2010/Summer2010/IsMentoringWorthIt.html
“When Big Brother is Watching [Out] For You: Mentoring Lawyers, Choosing a Mentor, and Sharing Ten Virtues From My Mentor” by Julie Oseid, available at http://www.innsofcourt.org/Content/Default.aspx?Id=2576