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Mentors and Mentoring: How Mentoring and Being Mentored Can Strengthen Your Career

Jun 19, 2018 7:00:00 AM / by Noma Ndlovu

Mentors and Mentoring

When one thinks of a mentoring relationship, it is often a vision of a fresh-faced law school student, eager to make the most of her or his experience. While mentorship is important during law school, it can be even more crucial when building your career or seeking to make a transition. It may take a village to graduate from law school and even to pass the bar exam, but what happens to those crucial relationships once law school ends? This article will focus on the benefits of both giving and receiving mentorship. First, I note that the less obvious benefits of receiving mentorship, particularly comradery and unconditional, uncompetitive friendship lead to more fulfilling career choices. Second, I note that providing mentorship can allow an opportunity to give back to a particular community in a notable fashion. Lastly, I discuss that receiving and providing mentorship simultaneously allows you to build a professional family and have generations (so to speak) of lawyers who can be a resource as they succeed in their own way.

Benefits of Providing Mentorship

The less obvious benefits of receiving mentorship, particularly comradery and unconditional, uncompetitive friendship lead to more fulfilling career choices. Much of our field is based on (respectfully) adversarial or competitive interactions. While it starts in law school with competition for grades, it continues in our professional lives with competition to get the best jobs at the most prestigious firms, win cases, bring in business or collect accolades. While healthy competition is good, it can become difficult to know who to trust. This is where a successful mentor relationship can provide the best support. Mentors can provide neutral career advice, advice about how to move up the ladder and how to present as strong leader. Mentors, often a few years ahead of us in their careers, have the perspectives to help strategize and address obstacles without any worry about how it will affect them. Be sure to ask your mentee what s/he is expecting from the relationship - is it help with networking? Is it help writing a paper to be published? Is it support making career advancing decisions? Be clear from the start; managing expectations is key to ensuring the exchange is beneficial for both parties.

Benefits of Receiving Mentorship

Looking at the opposite side of the same coin, providing mentorship can allow an opportunity to give back to a particular community in a notable and admirable fashion. Opportunities to draw support to various issues within the community, to build a network with younger lawyers with different perspectives, or keen eyes to avant garde areas of the law such as Cannabis law, or space law, or artificial intelligence. These keene young lawyers can be a resource to you and your network when special projects arise, or questions arise and no one in your current organization has an answer. Such access to someone you trust can improve your own standing by illustrating your resourcefulness and the strength of your network. Further, providing mentorship to young lawyers increases the visibility of your firm or organization, while giving you a chance to guide and influence young minds into particular areas of the law, or supporting particular institutions within the field. Moreover, presiding over someone in a mentor role allows the development of leadership skills crucial to progressing in our field such as listening and counseling skills. As mentioned previously, be sure to clarify what you are seeking from the mentorship and manage expectations on both ends.  

Learn to Do Both

Receiving and providing mentorship simultaneously allow you to build a professional family and have generations (so to speak) of lawyers who can be a resource as they succeed in their own concentrations. A weakness for many professionals is knowing only people who are in their same field, either Intellectual Property, Criminal Law or Real Estate. Providing and receiving mentorship can expand that network and position you as a power player within your organization. The varying experiences and ages of the mentors and mentees also provides for unexpected lessons and exposure. Moreover, being both mentored and providing mentorship can help to clarify the kind of professional environments and relationships you thrive in. Some mentors work best providing professional advice about scholarship while others are strongest in a conference setting issuing introductions.

How to Find  A Mentoring Relationship

Mentoring relationships come best organically. Law school alumni organizations often have events for alums of various years to meet. In addition, local bar associations such as the Greater Washington Bar Association or the Women’s Bar Association can provide an excellent opportunity to meet individuals outside of your area of practice and several years more or less experience. An additional idea is exploring local law school events that mix practitioners with current or recently graduated law students.

Find Success in Giving and Receiving

In conclusion, considering how to make progress your career, consider taking a step back to look at the larger picture. Question your professional values and ask, “How am I contributing to the community?” “How am I utilizing resources in the community to inform my career choices?” and “Where can I have new and engaging conversations about the future of the legal field?” Exploring these questions will enable you to envision the kind of mentoring relationship you want to participate in

Topics: For Contract Attorneys

Noma Ndlovu

Written by Noma Ndlovu

American University Washington College of Law, Class of 2017