Mentoring 101 for Lawyers: Ten Tips for a Great Start

Mentors can provide you with a compass and a map. They cannot tell you where you want to go.  


Each year I get to speak to hundreds of mentors and mentees participating in professional association mentoring programs. I keep a running list of my top 10 mentoring tips to get these programs off to a good start. I hope you find them helpful!

1.  Define Success. Mentors are there for a reason, a season or a lifetime.  Whether you create a mentoring relationship on your own or go through a formal program, understand where this relationship is likely headed.  Set initial expectations around the purpose and duration of the relationship.  As you start this mentoring relationship, keep in mind where you want to be at the end of the year and at the end of your career. Then ask youself this question:  When we are finished, if this has been a successful mentoring relationship, how will I know? What will have happened? What will I have learned? Experienced? The answers to these questions are the true North on the mentoring compass.

2.  Commit. When I speak to groups about mentoring, I repeat a story told to me by one of my mentors about a bacon and egg breakfast. There is a huge difference between the attitude of the chicken and that of the egg. Yes, the chicken is involved in the breakfast. But, the pig is truly committed. Committing to a mentoring relationship means agreeing on regular times to meet and then keeping them. My advice to would-be mentors: Your commitment to showing up and being active with your mentee sends a strong message. If the message is going to be, "you are not important enough to work into my schedule," then do the honorable thing....don't take it on. If your circumstances change, let your mentee know that. Find others who can fill in and keep your mentee updated as to when you will be back in the picture.

3.  Confidentiality. Talk about your expectations of confidentiality. For example, will your conversations be confidential? Is it ok to share the mentor's advice with others?  

4.  Connect Between Meetings.  How often is it ok to contact your mentor?  What are his or her preferences for contact between meetings? Does she prefer you to call her, email her or stop by her office?

5.  Treat Each Other Like You Would Your Best Client. Many mentors tell me that they aren't quite sure about what to say, how to be helpful or how to connect with someone younger or of a different culture. I suggest they treat their mentee as they would their best client. I tell mentees to do the same. Mentors are human. They need to know that their efforts are appreciated. And if you can help your mentor, that's even better. I mentor many law students and lawyers. When one writes a note, sends me an ariticle or refers me a client, I am grateful. I've interviewed some great law firm partner mentors and asked them, "Why do you choose to invest more time in a particular associate?" Invariably they answer that they invest in the associate who gives back, listens and uses advice, is considerate of the mentor's time, volunteers to help with work and with nonbillable projects, and generally looks for ways to make the relationship recipricol. A positive attitude and appreciation also go a long way.

6.  Set Goals. Mentees need to set goals. Mentors can advise in this regard, but ultimately, it's your life. No one else can set your course for you. Mentors can provide you with a compass and a map.  They cannot tell you where you want to go.

7.  Tell Stories.  Lawyers are natural storytellers. Mentors who share stories, especially stories that show how they made mistakes and lived to be successful, help mentees to see more clearly the path ahead and to feel more confident when they stumble.

8.  Show. Don't Always Just Tell. Look for opportunites for mentees to observe mentors in action... in the courtroom, in business development and in transactions.  

9.  Keep Showing Up.  Mentoring relationships develop over time. Not every encounter will result in a flash of insight. If you stick with it, you will look back over time and appreciate the richness of the experience.  

10.  Carry it Forward.  Everytime I mentor a young lawyer, business or nonprofit leader, I think about my own mentors and how I am passing on their legacy. It's never too early to mentor someone who is coming up behind you. They will appreciate it and it will help you understand your mentor's perspectives better.

If you are fortunate, you will always be a mentor and you will always have one.

What are your best mentoring tips? Please leave a comment!