Mentoring programs are the hot new thing at law schools, bar associations, and law firms. Even if your organization or employer doesn’t have a program, you can go out and find yourself a mentor who you respect and who is where you want to be professionally.
These are a few tips for getting the most out of a mentoring relationship:
Relationships don’t happen overnight
A deep, meaningful, and ultimately helpful relationship with a mentor don’t happen instantly. You must be willing to be in it for the long haul. You need to communicate regularly, and each conversation or contact should build on the previous contact. It’s up to you to initiate the contact. While your advisor might reach out, ultimately it is your responsibility as you are on the receiving end of the relationship.
When you connect, update your adviser with progress you have made on their suggestions or ideas. They will hopefully ask questions about how things are going and what support they can offer. While talking about the weather and local sports teams can be an enjoyable part of the contact, make sure that you are also talking about your goals and what your mentor can do to support you.
Take the meeting seriously, but not too seriously
When you meet with your mentor, you may want to bring a pen/paper or some other tool to record ideas, suggestions, contact information, or anything else your mentor gives you. While you don’t want to be taking notes like you are a 1L in Con Law, you will likely want to write down names, ideas, and suggestions your mentor gives you.
Be mindful and respectful of your adviser’s time. He/she is likely a busy person with a lot of important things to do for their work. They would likely appreciate meeting for coffee rather than a full meal, and they will want to minimize travel time. Ask where you can meet that is convenient for them.
See each other as more than a professional resource
We are all people, mentors and mentees alike. We put on our pants one leg at a time. It’s nice to get to know one another as individuals and people, not just someone who can help us or give us something we need.
Ask what is going on in their life if it’s appropriate to your relationship. If you have talked about kids/grand-kids/spouses/hobbies/etc., be sure to ask about those things and show interest. Most importantly, build a relationship that goes deeper than just mentor/mentee, but that gives you an appreciation of the other person. That way, the relationship is built to last rather than fizzle out.
Don’t forget to have fun as well! Your mentor is quite possibly a bright, fun, interesting person, so enjoy the time you spend together.
Ask for what you need
You won’t get what you want and need out of your relationship if you don’t ask for it. Be clear about what you would like to learn and how you would like to grow. Mentors want to help or they would not have agreed to mentor you. So be specific about what you are looking for, and you will be much more likely to get it.
If you have specific questions or obstacles, ask for what you need. Ambiguous questions will get you ambiguous answers. Ask questions that really get you the information that you can use.
Be grateful and give back
Keep your mentor up-to-date. If he/she makes a suggestion that is meaningful, be sure to act upon it. Then tell your mentor what you have done and the results. They will feel like their advice and suggestions are making a difference for you, and you are proving yourself to be a person of action and not just talk.
Take a moment to thank them for his or her time. A simple word of thanks or thank-you note will make sure your mentor feels appreciated. If you can help your mentor in some way, be sure to do it. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It could be as simple as forwarding them a link to an article you think he might enjoy or picking up the tab for her coffee.
Remember, this is a long-term relationship. Like so many other things, you will get out of it what you put into it and what you ask for from it. Be sure to connect with an adviser who can support you in the specific ways you need, and treat the relationship with the respect and value it deserves.