Much has been written about how mentoring programs at law firms and corporate legal departments better integrate new hires, improve retention and help entry-level professionals negotiate the legal career ladder. However, what many people forget is that this is a two-way street: A mentor can get as much out of the relationship as the mentee.
In general, mentors provide support and guidance to those under their wings. A good mentor may help a young lawyer or paralegal learn the ropes, choose a specialty, gain professional contacts and tackle workplace challenges. This advisor does not manage the advisee — and for good reason. By not being responsible for the day-to-day supervision of a mentee, a mentor can focus more on teaching than managing.
If you’ve dismissed the idea of becoming a mentor because you believe it will take too much time and energy, you may want to reconsider. Here are the seven benefits of mentoring for your legal career:
- Boost your soft skills.Mentoring is an opportunity to improve your abilities in communication, leadership, management and other valuable soft skills. Traits like empathy, candor and diplomacy are important in order to be a good mentor, and developing these characteristics can help you in your interactions with clients and colleagues. Assist your protégé by listening to his or her questions and opinions, giving advice and recognizing successes. Such skills will also help you become a better manager and coworker.
- Learn new concepts.While you may keep up with developments in the legal field by reading law journals and taking continuing legal education sources, another way to be informed on the latest research, newest technologies and freshest perspectives is to mentor a junior legal professional. Your mentee might be more up-to-date on electronic case-management techniques, for example, and give you tips on how to take advantage of these and other developments. This is sometimes known as reverse mentoring.
- Bridge generational gaps.In a multigenerational workplace, it’s to your advantage to get to know the different approaches, mindsets and expectations of employees newer to the legal field. When a boomer mentors a Gen Xer or a Gen Xer mentors a Millennial, everyone benefits by deepening relationships with people of diverse ages, backgrounds and experiences — as long as everyone maintains an open mind. These informal connections can go a long way toward boosting teamwork and promoting collegiality.
- Expand your network.As a mentor, one of your primary responsibilities is to widen your mentee’s networking circle, both within your firm and outside of it. But as your charge moves up in her career and meets other professionals, you will start to benefit from the contacts she has cultivated independently from you.
- Change your perspective.Because your mentee will be paying attention to and asking questions about your techniques, processes and organizational skills, you may wind up seeing your own approaches through his eyes — a helpful perspective to gain. Mentees have a way of indirectly challenging their mentors to examine their routines and to make any necessary tweaks in work habits. In addition, many mentors find that teaching a particular skill or explaining a task helps them better understand it themselves.
- Advance your firm.If you are in a leadership role in your firm, you are already invested in its success. Becoming a mentor allows you to take on another active role by grooming future leaders and planning for succession. You have the opportunity to instill your firm’s legacy and culture in the next generation of lawyers.
- Pay it forward.Think back to an earlier period in your legal career: You probably benefitted from having a mentor, either through a formal program or just from having a seasoned professional you could turn to with questions. If that person has retired, you can repay that good deed by helping someone else along in his career.
Whether you’re in the middle of your career or nearing the end of it, consider beginning a mentoring relationship with a new professional in your firm. A strong mentoring relationship does require a time investment, but the advantages can be invaluable to both your and your mentee’s legal career — as well as the future of the firm or department.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.