The right mentor relationship can make all the difference in the quality of your experience as a lawyer.
He or she can be an invaluable source of wisdom and advice, not to mention connections. However, you can only get out of a mentorship what you put into it.
Have Clear Goals
Be clear and specific in your own thinking, and especially clear and specific with your mentor. They won’t be able to help you much if you don’t know what you want or have only vague questions.
When you determine in what areas you need guidance, keep in mind that it’s not the best use of your mentor’s experience to simply ask what they did in a situation and then follow their exact steps. It will be more useful to you to find out how they came to their decisions—what factors they considered when changing jobs, how they figured out they would be more effective practicing a different type of law, what circumstances made them opt to stay in the workforce another five years instead of retiring at the same time as their partner, etc. Your career will most likely not follow the same trajectory as your mentor, but you can learn quite a lot by how they went about making their decisions, and they can point out areas where they may have stumbled and help you avoid similar missteps.
Remember That Your Mentor is Human
Of course you want to be as polished and professional as possible in your interactions with your mentor, but don’t forget to be yourself—your likable, down-to-earth self. Your mentor is just a person, with likes, dislikes and hobbies; find a few points of commonality that aren’t necessarily related to work. Make your meetings and conversations together pleasant for both of you.
Be respectful of your mentor’s time. They are just as busy as you are, if not more so. Use email sparingly, make firm appointments, be on time, and be understanding if they are only able to meet for a coffee rather than lunch.
When a suggestion from your mentor yields positive results, be sure to update and thank them. Remember that it’s a relationship, and if any small way to help them arises, take the opportunity. It could be a gesture as simple as forwarding an article related to something they expressed interest in, or passing on that caterer/dog walker/whoever’s phone number.
The Right Fit
In the best-case scenario, two people will get along well, find each other helpful, and remain in contact for years. This is only possible with the right fit. When speaking with a prospective mentor, ensure your goals and personalities align, and that you have the same views and expectations of a mentoring relationship.
Mentorships can begin with a formal arrangement through your firm, or more organically with someone you’ve met at a networking event or worked with early in your career. In fact, it can be a great idea to have one of each kind of mentor: One person who works at your firm and can give you advice specific to its culture and how to maximize your career there, and one person from outside of the firm you can speak with about goals or issues that may be in conflict with what your employer wants.
No matter how you initially connect, the mentor-mentee relationship is meant to be a reciprocal and long-term one—a professional friendship, if you will. Keep in mind that meaningful relationships don’t happen overnight, but take time to develop through effort and commitment.
In the next week schedule a quick coffee meeting with your mentor and prepare two specific things you would like to discuss. Update them on your progress.