Can Mentoring be Replaced by Blogs and Social Networks?

Kevin O’Keefe thinks blogs and social networks may replace mentors for new lawyers. Scott Greenfield thinks this will basically destroy the practice of law. They are both a bit right and a bit wrong.

Blogs and social networks are poor replacements for an offline mentor, but I don’t think many lawyers think they are. Local email lists and forums can provide better online mentoring, but most lawyers should still seek out a local mentor offline.

Lawyers can get mentoring online

Many new lawyers are definitely turning to the internet for help, and getting some of the information from blogs and social networks that they would otherwise get from a mentor. For some parts of practicing law, that is just fine. When it comes to running a business, there is a lot of good information on blogs and social networks.

When it comes to actual, practical information about the day-to-day practice of law, however, blogs and social networks make a pretty inadequate mentor.

Better online options do exist, though. For example, my state bar association has a lively solosmall email list where lawyers discuss all aspects of law practice, from marketing to legal issues to procedural rules. (You can try the ABA’s SOLOSEZ, but it is like getting blasted with a firehose of email, which makes it hard to pick out the good bits from all the noise.) The Lawyerist LAB is also an excellent place to discuss lawyering.

But any lawyer getting their mentoring online should still seek out an offline mentor for help with the day-to-day things that really make up the practice of law.

Most mentoring still needs to take place offline

A lot of what lawyers need to know about the day-to-day practice of law is local, small, tedious, or ultra-specific. It is hard to write in general terms about what strategy a lawyer ought to adopt in front of X judge in Y county when Z is the central issue and the facts are A, B, and Q. It may not be a good idea to write too much about which judges are plaintiff friendly—or which are not. It may be difficult or uninteresting to write about little things like ECF quirks or how and when to bates stamp discovery production or which clerk to deal with if you need help with a real estate filing.

But these things are essential to a lawyer’s practice, and difficult or impossible to get online. That is why offline mentors remain important to new lawyers’ success. If new lawyers are going it alone, then Scott has a point.

Fortunately, I think most new lawyers know this, and seek out mentors as well as online resources. It is not hard to do, either, especially as a solo. I had more help and support as a solo than I ever did while working at a firm. Most of the solos I have met are incredibly generous with their time, and happy to help out another solo. It breeds good karma, as well as making good networking.

How to find a mentor

Finding a mentor often happens naturally if you are getting out and meeting other lawyers (you know, networking). If you aren’t having any luck, however, take matters into your own hands. Offer to co-counsel with another attorney for free if he or she will let you “ride shotgun” on a few files. Take your pay in good advice and valuable experience. I did this a few years ago when I thought I wanted to do estate planning. I learned a ton from the lawyers who agreed to mentor me—including that estate planning wasn’t for me.

As for where to look, start by putting out a request to your local solosmall email list, if there is one. Or use a local lawyer director (or Avvo, Google, etc.) to get a list of lawyers close to you that handle the kinds of cases you want to handle, and have experience doing it. Then, pick up the phone and talk a lawyer into some free work.

New lawyers should not get all of their mentoring online, but there are plenty of offline mentors left, so they don’t need to.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vrider/3462679821/in/photostream/)

Lawyering Skills, Starting a Law Firm

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  • http://californiaentrepreneurattorney.com/ dan

    I While there is a lot of good information out there, I still think attorneys need those more experienced one, face to face, or live over the phone, just to get their thoughts, kick ideas back and forth, and engage in a live conversation.

    While I do get a lot of mentoring online, I’ve routinely have had to tap into my in-person mentors.

  • http://www.coyelaw.com Wade Coye

    You make an excellent point about balancing the real world experiences with online access. In many situations in life, whether getting mentored in a practice or something common such as learning how to fix a car, there are plenty of online sources (that are reputable). So much research can be done online; some would argue that it makes things like formal education nearly obsolete.

    But you make a very smart observation that face-to-face mentoring is still quite important. Just like getting your hands dirty and actually trying to fix a car yourself will help you learn the mechanics better, talking and interacting with another lawyer in person will give you that “hands-on” experience.

  • http://www.bankruptcymastery.com Cathy Moran

    In a perfect world, there would be an ample supply of capable mentors for the new and inexperienced lawyers. In the real world, I don’t think that’s so.

    With the influx of new lawyers into solo practice in bankruptcy, I found myself overwhelmed with the needs of newbies. I ended up creating a website where I write for new bankruptcy lawyers and a listserve so that more than one lawyer can benefit from my input on an issue.

    Otherwise, the need swamps even a dedicated mentor.

  • http://www.agilewords.com Fabrice

    They are online tools, like skype, mikogo with video conference and screen sharing options, that can replace a face to face meeting.