Do you have a mentor? If not, maybe, it is time to add the task of finding one to your list of New Year’s resolutions. Your relationship with a mentor can be instrumental to building a successful and satisfying career. A young attorney faces many choices. Asking the right questions is a prerequisite for making good decisions. How do I choose a practice area or a niche? How can I get more work to fulfill my requirement for billable hours? How can I prioritize my personal and professional obligations? What is the best way to stay current in my field and gain expertise? These are examples of questions you can ask your mentor. “OK, I get it, it is a good idea to have a mentor, but how do I find one?” Here are a few things you can do:
- Start with assessing your needs. Which areas of your life could use a mentor? What do you want to gain from the relationship with a mentor? How would you know if the mentor is a good fit for you? Do you have a preference for the means of communication with your mentor? These days, you don’t have to meet the person face-to-face. Email or phone conversations can work well, although some would argue that nothing beats a good old lunch. If you had a mentor in the past, evaluate that relationship form the standpoint of what worked for you and what didn’t.
- Think of what you can bring to the table. Mentorship is a two-way relationship. Your unique background and experiences, your knowledge of technology, your fresh perspective can be of value to others.
- Make a list of the characteristics of your ideal mentor. Be open-minded about it. You and your mentor don’t have to work in the same place. Your mentor does not have to be much older that you are. There is a benefit to having a mentor who has recent memories of the issues you are facing.
- Now it is time to see who fits your ideal mentor profile. Do you know anybody you would want to be your mentor? Put them on your list of candidates. Look closely at the people around you. Who do you go to for advice? Whose opinion do you value? Perhaps, you already have a budding mentor relationship. Share your plans and the profile with your relatives, friends, acquaintances. They may know of someone and may be willing to broker your initial contact. Don’t underestimate your “weak ties.” According to Keith Ferrazzi, your acquaintances may be even more valuable than your close friends. The reason is that you and your close friends often hang out with the same people, whereas your more distant acquaintances may broaden the search pool. And don’t forget, you can have several mentors, there is no one-mentor-per-mentee limit.
- Decide how you want to approach your potential mentors. You can summarize your strategy in a simple table where all the important information is written out, so that all you need to do is to execute on your plan. Download how_to_find_a_mentor_table.doc [Word, 25KB]. Contacting people is the scary part for many, so creating a plan helps to avoid unnecessary deliberation and hesitation. Most people are flattered when they are asked to become a mentor even if they are too busy to take on this responsibility. Remember that rejections are part of the process. Also, if someone cannot be a mentor for you for some reason, ask if he or she can recommend somebody else.
- You may also want to research organizations that offer mentorship programs for lawyers. For example, General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division of the American Bar Association offers Law Student Mentoring Certificate. The State Bar of Georgia launched the Mentoring Program in early 2006. The Ohio Bar piloted the Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring Program. The Missouri Bar also has a mentoring program. These are just the ones I know of, there may be more.
- For additional resources on mentoring, check out Law Practice Today. Here is a link to an article that discusses more internet resources on mentoring. Finally, you may find useful this How to Find a Mentor Worksheet.
Good luck and let me know if these tips work for you.
* This post is part of the Networking Carnival hosted by Legal Andrew, where you can find many more great tips on networking.