Guess what? Unless you keep your office door closed, don’t talk on the telephone and don’t use email/Facebook/Twitter, you mentor every working day. Mentoring in our careers as legal professionals means that through working relationships with others, we grow professionally and oftentimes personally. Those relationships can be formal or informal, recognized or unrecognized, appreciated or unappreciated. But they are all around us every hour of every day:
• a colleague who stops by your open office door to run a case by you for your thoughts;
• a paralegal who emails you for suggestions on a document she is drafting;
• a co-worker’s son who is considering law as a profession and needs some advice from you; and
• an attorney who is newly admitted to the bar but still trying to find the “right” job.
All these and more are mentoring opportunities. Guess what again? Those opportunities will not only help the mentee to grow professionally through his relationship with you, but you also will be rewarded by growing professionally and personally, too.
So, where to start?
A few tips for mentees
Have a sense of what you need or are looking for. Do you need a one-time consult to answer a specific question, or are you looking for a go-to person who can guide you over time? Be able to define the parameters of the relationship for the potential mentor.
Keep your head up, your eyes wide open and your ears perked because mentoring is everywhere, and there are lots of folks who are willing to help if you just ask. This leads to the third tip.
Ask. Don’t wait for your boss, teacher or significant other to recognize that you would benefit from mentoring and initiate the relationship for you. Rather, recognize it yourself, identify potential mentors and ask.
Once you’ve asked, be persistent and follow up. Those who mentor are often the busiest of the busy, so politely remind them you are still out there needing their expertise.
Appreciate your mentors. Thank them for their time and effort. An appreciated mentor will be part of your professional network for years to come.
A few tips for mentors
Be approachable. Open your door, respond to emails and phone calls, engage less-experienced attorneys in conversation at continuing education seminars, and participate in law and office functions.
Once approached, listen to what is being asked. Stop reading, typing or talking. Give the mentee your full attention.
And if you can, don’t judge or criticize. Understand that the person seeking your help is searching and may not know exactly where to search or how to speak the special language we’ve developed in Indiana’s legal community.
To keep mentees coming back, be responsible and dependable. Carry through on what you have promised, even if you’ve blown the target date.
Keep your eyes open and ears perked for opportunities that might match up with folks you know are seeking some answers or guidance.
Continue to develop your own professional network. Until it happens, you don’t know when you may need the assistance of your colleagues to find the “right” job for you or to give you practice pointers in an unfamiliar area of the law.
For both mentees and mentors
Get involved in the legal community or community at large. Participating in an organization with a mission that benefits others is a great way to broaden your knowledge and expand your network to include folks in and outside the legal profession. Plus, it is rewarding … you will make a difference!•
Ms. Muse is an attorney in the Indianapolis office of State Farm Litigation Counsel and is a member of the DTCI. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.