Mentoring: Sustaining the Legal Profession and Our Clients

“Nobody succeeds on their own…” (US President Barack Obama, Presidential Proclamation, December 28, 2016)

As January 2017 is National Mentoring Month in the United States (as so declared by President Obama), it seemed timely to write about mentoring in the legal profession. But how to approach the topic so that this post doesn’t sound like every other “The Importance of Mentoring” piece out there?

After reflecting on my own experience of mentoring, it occurred to me that a successful mentor-mentee relationship has much in common with our vision of sustainable employment relationships, which are built on values such as collaboration, transparency and respect. When these things are present, both mentor and mentee stand to gain from their interactions.

In fact, it’s this idea of mutual benefit (another key sustainable employment principle) which is at the heart of any thriving relationship. In the case of mentorship, this means that the narrow view of mentoring as a one-way transfer of knowledge is replaced by a richer arrangement where the information flow is reciprocal.

So what does this look like in the context of the legal profession?

Senior lawyers guide more junior practitioners by:

  • Helping them build and grow essential professional networks
  • Sharing insight into the reality of legal practice
  • Normalizing and validating their experiences
  • Offering career development advice
  • Teaching them important lessons about ethics and professionalism, and occasionally
  • Explaining points of law.

For their part, junior lawyers help their mentors by:

  • Educating them about technology innovations that are crucial to marketing and business development
  • Offering fresh perspectives on well-established legal principles
  • Providing insight into the needs and values of the next legal generation, and
  • Giving feedback on senior lawyers as leaders, and ideally
  • Inspiring a renewed commitment to the practice of law.

In these ways and many others I’m sure I’ve forgotten, lawyer mentoring relationships sustain not just the individual mentor and mentee, but the broader legal community we belong to and, by extension, the people we support – our clients – through the work we do.

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