Today’s post is the first in a series about our experience starting our own firm right out of law school.
Mentorship is essential in our practice – and to the profession. Whether you hung out a shingle like we did, or secured an associate position at a large firm, all new attorneys need someone to call with questions, to check work, to give the skinny on the judge in whose courtroom you will appear next week. The Ohio State Bar Association just finished a commissioned study through a professional vendor on the needs and wants of new attorneys. It learned, surprise!, that we all really want mentorship.
Our practice would not exist without our mentors. I am lucky – is there a superlative form of lucky? – to have several experienced attorneys willing to help me when I need it. They offer practical advice, check my work, help me anticipate and plan for problems, refer clients to me, and share their forms. My mentors continually show extraordinary generosity. The success of these relationships is not accidental. I make careful, earnest efforts to earn their generosity. Here are some things that have worked well for me, and I hope they might work for others as well.
1. Be willing to put yourself out there.
I am not the sort of person for whom forming new relationships is easy. It takes a lot of energy for me to be “on” with new people. Inviting attorneys to lunch and trying to form relationships is way, WAY outside my comfort zone.
But I do it all the time, to my great surprise, successfully. I plan for these periods I spend outside my comfort zone and schedule times to recharge. I also take time to prepare for meeting potential mentors so I have things to say once I am sitting across from them (yes I have to plan that – please don’t judge me). The bottom line is that you have to be willing to reach out, to meet new people – or reconnect with those you already know – and to be clear about what sort of relationship you are looking for.
On that last point: ask potential mentors if you can call them with questions. Don’t leave it up in the air. Those who agree to spend some time at lunch or over coffee are likely to say yes; they’ve already shown you generosity by just showing up.
2. Put the needs of your mentor before your own.
Make it easy for your mentor to fit you into his or her life. This means rearranging your schedule to accommodate your mentor, even when it is inconvenient. This also means responding to your mentor quickly and efficiently. This means not taking your mentor for granted by calling with questions when you’ve made no effort to find the answers on your own. This means listening for cues about your mentor’s preferred style and method of communication and conforming to his or her preferences.
That last point is easier than it sounds. Some people prefer talking on the phone; others prefer email. Some prefer that you schedule a call, others have windows in which they are usually available, still others are ok to take a call any time. In your relationship with your mentor your preferences don’t really matter. Do what your mentor is most comfortable with.
3. Find ways to reciprocate generosity.
As a new attorney you might feel like you don’t have much to offer an experienced mentor who is willing to give you a leg up, but I promise you do. Do they need some extra research done? Do it, for free if needed. A family member needs some pro bono representation? Volunteer. They are presenting a CLE and need someone to tag along and help with logistics? Volunteer for that too.
Keep you ears open for opportunities to give back to your mentor. Something will come up. Don’t hesitate to offer your assistance.
One last note: Adopt as part of your personal philosophy the notion that being as generous as possible to others will invite generosity in return.
And try to find mentors who have the same philosophy. First, the notion that you reap what you sow is, in my experience, absolutely true in the practice of law. If you are generous with your time and advice, the beneficiaries of your generosity with recognize and reciprocate it.
Finding mentors who subscribe to this notion is tricky. One of mine flat out told me that he operates his practice on this notion. Others are not so transparent. Be attentive in your interactions with new attorney acquaintances. What sort of cases to they take? What sort of clients are they willing to work with? Do they make an effort to do regular pro bono work? Are they willing to take on clients they know won’t pay their full fee because the client needs help with a just cause? These last two are evidence of a generous nature, and signs that a mentoring relationship might be beneficial for both of you.
Thanks for reading, blogosphere. I will continue to write about starting a new law firm with the hope that others might benefit from my experience. If anyone has questions or comments please feel free to post below. I am happy to continue talking about mentorship and about being a good mentee.