We don’t have to tell you once again that for lawyers, mentors can be especially helpful in just about every facet of the lawyer life—doubly so for women lawyers, who are underrepresented in top positions at most firms.
Though more women are finding themselves in powerful roles that would be unheard of only a few decades ago, advancing in firm life is often still an uphill battle, making mentorship that much more crucial.
Here are some sobering statistics: Even though women make up more than 50% of current law school graduates, they only account for 35% of the lawyers at firms. And only 54% of women have access to senior leaders who can act as mentors or role models in the workplace. So it’s no wonder there are significantly fewer women in partner positions at big law firms. Women mentoring women can not only assist career navigation and growth, but confidence building as well. Studies show that when women feel more confident, their leadership skills increase.
A mentor provides a friendly and experienced ear to run ideas and problems by, and she can also serve as a workplace ally if she works at your firm. Knowing there’s professional backup can give women the empowerment and support they need to advance. And of course, the advice you receive—backed up by years of experience—is invaluable. Your mentor can also help you grow your network by breaking down barriers to associations and professional groups.
There are a number of ways to acquire a mentor—or two. Starting in law school, if there are any professors you think you could learn and get good advice from, don’t be afraid to ask if they’d be willing to meet for coffee to have a conversation. During your summer jobs working at firms as a summer associate or any other law related job, take note of those you admire and believe you could learn from, and don’t hesitate to speak with them. Again, asking to meet and talk about how they came to their career, how they handle certain aspects of the job, and your own ideas isn’t something to be afraid of.
Don’t forget to utilize the Bar Association and the alumni network from both your undergrad and law school, as well as those you might meet at casual networking events. In fact, informal mentor relationships that happen naturally can end up being more rewarding than those that are more formal in nature. But of course, once you’ve started working with a firm, don’t discount the formal mentor programs most of them provide. Every program is different, and you never know what you may be able to get out of them until you give one a try, especially since you can benefit from having more than one mentor.
Remember that mentorship is meant to be a mutually beneficial relationship. Being a mentor can be extremely rewarding, help you see things from a new perspective, and even give you fresh ideas. Mentoring others can also give a senior legal professional more weight as an authority in the field, so consider giving your time if you’re in that favorable, seasoned position. Lastly, many mentors simply find being involved in the successes of a junior legal professional quite satisfying.