Mentorship is the elusive unicorn that everyone seems to want, but when put into practice, is rarely successfully achieved. Most attorneys I know actually do want to be a mentor to help guide new attorneys through the legal minefield, and most new attorneys are desperate to find someone they can feel confident to call with questions. Mentorship programs are always created with good intentions, but may fail when there is a forced relationship between the mentor and mentee that cannot be sustained. In some circumstances, the mentor is too busy to devote the time or energy to build the relationship, or the mentee loses interest or fails to follow through, or simply put, the relationship between the two individuals just isn’t a match. I would argue mentorship is like dating; you have to really devote the time and energy to meet a lot of people in order to find someone you have chemistry with to build a relationship that will last.
Here are my two cents (and probably not worth much more than that) on how to be a good mentee. In the legal world, if you are looking for a mentor, without a doubt you have to attend legal events, CLEs and networking mixers to expose yourself to as many legal professionals as you can. That being said, I personally believe that one on one meetings are the most valuable in developing a relationship with a potential mentor over large group events. Asking to take a fellow attorney out to lunch or for coffee with the intention of learning more about them and their practice will get you far more responses than asking an attorney to lunch or coffee to promote yourself or your business or to ask for referrals. We all know that attorneys like to talk about themselves and the law, so if you preface the meeting to make it about them, they are more likely to accept your invitation.
Trust and rapport is not built in a day, so you really have to devote the time to lay the foundation with your potential mentors in the beginning. For all the lunches and coffees I set up, I always offered to pay for the check as well. This is a gesture that proves to the attorney that you respect and appreciate their time. All meetings should be followed up with a handwritten note or email thanking them for their time.
If you found an attorney you would like to be your mentor, ask them if they are planning on attending any upcoming legal events of interest that you may want to join them for. I am always more willing to go to events when I know a friendly face will be there. This is a perfect opportunity to set a follow up “date” with the potential mentor to get to know them better, and have them introduce you to other legal professionals. Your mentor should be someone you feel comfortable calling or emailing when you have a legal question on a case. Obviously the calls and emails shouldn’t be a daily or weekly occurrence, so remember to limit your contact to times when you truly have a burning question or want to invite them to an event.
What many mentees don’t realize is that mentorship is a symbiotic relationship. Where both parties are committed to fostering the success of each other’s careers, a lasting mentorship will bloom.