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.
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.