I will never forget the first mentoring moment that I received from my legal mentor, Robert Wagner. He called me into his office and he said, “John, I need you to go call Howard Young to arrange for a site inspection of a backyard swimming pool.” The thought of calling Howard Young intimidated me a great deal (He was many years my senior and an acclaimed plaintiff lawyer.). So, I procrastinated. …A few days later, Mr. Wagner asked me if I had called Howard Young. I explained that I had not, and I confessed that I was nervous to call him. With a hint of humor in his voice, Mr. Wagner assured me that Howard was approachable, and that if I intended to practice law, I would need to have the courage to call another lawyer no matter who they were. He told me to make the call that day. No excuses.
I called Howard Young, and said, “Mr. Young…” and he cut me off immediately, and said, “My father is ‘Mr. Young.’ My name is Howard. Call me Howard.” I called him Howard, and in no time at all, the site inspection was arranged.
Looking back on those moments I realize that two people had mentored me. Robert Wagner had forced me to do something that I had been mildly scared to do, and Howard Young had made it clear to me that I was a colleague in the bar whom he valued. Howard Young practiced law almost to his 90th birthday, and every time I saw him up to his death, I never forgot how he had put me at ease and how much I valued that I knew him as Howard.
We are living in a time when the legal profession is changing. Jobs are scarcer. Busy lawyers are finding less time for fellowship and volunteerism. Young lawyers are finding an increasing challenge in getting experience. Many lawyers and law students are unemployed or underemployed and are feeling emotional and financial desperation. Communication is by email or text and less by phone or face-to-face. Lawyers seemingly have less interest in participating in bar associations and other groups.
Against this backdrop there has never been a time in which mentoring has been more important. Many of you may feel that you don’t have the talent or the capacity to mentor others. That could not be further from the truth.
So, what is “mentoring,” you ask? According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, a mentor is, “Someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.” If you parse this definition you see “teach,” “help,” and “advice” among the key words. In my view, mentoring is as much or as little teaching, helping, or advising as time might allow you. It ranges from the intensive day-to-day effort to help shape and mold a professional colleague to nothing more than inviting someone to join the bar association or come to a law-related event. It includes any effort you can share to make things a little better (or a lot better) for someone else. It also includes words of encouragement or praise that may prompt another lawyer or law student to reach even higher than they had ever expected to reach.
Leadership educator Drew Dudley, in his popular TED Talk, “Everyday Leadership,” talks about what he describes as a “lollipop moment.” It is a moment when someone says something or does something that makes your life better. Every one of us has the capacity to provide a lollipop moment for someone else. You may do it without realizing it, or you can set your mind to the notion that you can be a catalyst to change or improve the lives of others. Mentoring can be formal and ongoing, or it can be unplanned and momentary. Either way it happens, we all need some mentoring some of the time, and we all have the capacity to mentor.
Please, give it a try. Mentoring is like a gift. You may find through mentoring that you actually receive more than you gave, but what you gave will be appreciated.•