New Attorneys Will Benefit From a Mentor

Passing the bar makes every new attorney think they are ready to hit the ground running and filing Supreme Court appeals their first year of practice.

Whether you are starting your own solo practice or working for a big firm, make a conscious effort to find attorney(s) who are willing to mentor you as a new attorney.

Newsflash: you don’t know (anything) everything

Passing the bar means you are licensed to practice law in your state. Passing the bar, however, does not magically mean you know how to draft a complaint, file anything with the court, deal with precarious client situations, or deal with obnoxious opposing counsel.

New attorneys deserve some credit—if you passed the bar you are an intelligent person and can solve problems by putting your nose to the grindstone. If you have to figure them all out on your own, you will find yourself working 80 hour weeks, developing bad eating habits, and generally feel like a fish out of water. In other words: the expressway to new lawyer burnout. That’s why mentors are especially useful.

If you can, pick the “right” mentor

Personality and individual lawyering style matters. Ideally, you can find a mentor(s) that practices the way you want to practice someday. It’s much easier to take mental notes based on “oh, when this happens, I should do that” versus “that was bad and bad things happened when [mentor] did that.” You’re going to learn either way, but when you’re around someone who constantly screws things up, you might not learn the right way to do it.

If you work at a firm, there is hopefully more than one attorney who is willing to show you the ropes. If more than one attorney is willing to take you under their wing, take advantage of that. The more exposure you have to various personality types, the faster you will develop your own style and transition from a new attorney into a plain old attorney.

Beware of excessive usage

The best thing about a mentor is that you when you have a problem, you have someone willing to help you solve the problem. The worst thing about a mentor is that you can easily use that as a crutch, which will stunt your growth as an attorney and drive your mentor crazy. For example, asking your mentor how to set the margins on Microsoft Word is something you can easily figure out on your own.

One way to try and blur the line a bit is to answer your question before you ask your mentor—I’ll give Sam a shout out on that idea. When I started running my own practice, I quickly found myself asking Sam questions I would not have asked him when I was his associate. In other words, I knew the answer, I just needed some affirmation. That’s necessary to an extent, but answering your own questions should help limit how much help you need from your mentor.

Most attorneys will tell you that mentoring has benefits to the mentor, as well as the mentee. But relentlessly answering questions will quickly make a mentor eager to limit or end the relationship.

Being a new attorney is not easy. Finding the right mentor can help you develop the right lawyer skills, which will lead to long term success.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosalynlouise/5115119615/)

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  • http://www.koncision.com Ken Adams

    I think it’s useful to distinguish between mentoring and training. Here’s my 2010 blog post on that subject: http://www.adamsdrafting.com/2010/07/27/you-say-mentoring-i-say-training/.

  • http://whichdraft.com/ Jason Mark Anderman

    Your post makes me wonder whether or not experienced attorneys should also have mentors who function as coaches to help the attorney constantly improve the quality of legal practice. A fairly recent article in the New Yorker was penned by an experienced surgeon who said that using a coach allowed him to finally reduce his 2% complications rate. He did point out that there were significant reasons why experienced practitioners might not want to use a coach, from egotism to clients wrongly fearing coaching as a signal of lower service quality despite the opposite being the case. I discussed it on my blog here: http://jasonanderman.tumblr.com/post/11028363506/coaching

  • Unemployed Attorney

    New attorneys will also benefit from having a #$%&! job.

  • http://www.ryanvelo-simpson.com Ryan Velo-Simpson

    I found it useful to be able to tap into several experienced (and not so experienced) solo attorneys strictly for advice on start-up of a new practice. I find that I can get many answers to legal issues through listservs much easier and less intrusively than directly contacting a mentor (although I certainly did at the start). It would be nice to have a “partner” to bounce ideas off of, but again, the listservs can function well in this role as well.

  • http://www.greenhornlegal.com Desiree Moore

    This article addresses a very important point. Building relationships and finding a mentor are among the first things new lawyers should do when they begin their legal practice. There is value in diversifying your mentoring pool, as well. The deeper the talent pool that is coaching you along, the more likely you are to develop your own exceptional practice. Thanks for the thoughtful discussion.