Formal mentor programs, when done well, are an expensive proposition. Mentoring requires lawyers to give of their time, which for most lawyers translates directly to giving away income. The natural question, then, is whether mentoring is worth it. Does mentoring matter?
The answer is “yes.” Mentoring is actually one of the very best investments lawyers can make with their time and a great investment of resources for any organization. The best way to understand why mentoring matters is through the lens of the functions each mentor can provide to each protégé. These functions are the roadmap to a new lawyer’s success. There are really three key mentoring functions: career mentoring, psychosocial mentoring and professionalism mentoring. These three functions provide a new lawyer with the practical skills needed to succeed, and a more developed professional identity.
Career Mentoring This function is the pathway for a law student or new lawyer to move from understanding the law to actually practicing it. Mentors teach their protégés the unwritten rules of our profession – from professional decorum and attire to where to sit in court. Mentors help their protégés develop a network and role model the interpersonal skills necessary for marketing. Most importantly, mentors role model for their protégés the essential truth that a lawyer’s professional success is about relationships with clients, colleagues, opposing counsel and courts.
Psychosocial MentoringMentors are a safe harbor for the new lawyer to discuss the challenges of our profession and the stresses of handling important work for our clients. Mentors help their protégés overcome the mistakes that all new lawyers make, and help the new lawyer build a sense of belonging and purpose in our profession. Studies show that lawyers are more pessimistic than the general public. Psychosocial mentoring is the mentor’s contribution to overcoming the protégé’s natural disposition to doubt his or her ability to succeed.1
Professionalism MentoringIn my experience, every student I have dealt with wants to meet the highest levels of professionalism. Most new lawyers, however, have no idea what that means in practice. Mentors role model professionalism in action. They demonstrate how to react when faced with difficult opposing counsel. They help the new lawyer manage client expectations and affairs promptly.
The professionalism function is also about the conversations mentors and protégés have about the very meaning of our profession. Mentors and protégés challenge each other about personal core values and how they impact the lawyer’s decisions. These challenges are dialogues about the limits of zealous advocacy, or our pursuit of fees and income. Mentors challenge their protégés about the obligation to do pro bono work and to improve our profession and communities. In short, the professionalism function is at the core of helping each new lawyer understand what it means to take the oath to join our profession.
When a law student or new lawyer gets all of these mentoring functions, that lawyer is better prepared for the actual work she must do, has more confidence in her ability to do the work, and is better able to meet the highest levels of professional standards. As a whole, mentoring creates the type of new lawyers you would expect to succeed. Research shows that is exactly what happens. People who have been mentored report much better career outcomes than those who have not been mentored. They are better paid, promoted more often, happier with their current jobs, and happier with their careers as a whole.2 Those who have been mentored have more confidence that they will continue to advance in their career and are more likely to stay in their current employment.3
While the empirical study of mentoring is still relatively new, there is ample evidence that mentoring makes a difference for any professional. That difference is amplified in the legal profession. Mentoring addresses both the practical and personal developmental gaps for new lawyers. It is a pathway to producing a next generation that is happier, more professional and performing at the highest levels. Mentoring may require an investment of time and other resources, but it is an investment that yields a return for years to come. The real question is not “why should any of us mentor,” it is really “why shouldn’t each of us mentor?”
1 – Seligman, Martin E P; Verkuil, Paul R; Kang, Terry H: “Why Lawyers are Unhappy” (2005) DeakinLawRw 4; (2005) 10(1) Deakin Law Review 49.2 – Ragins, Belle Rose, and Kram, Kathy E. The Handbook of Mentoring at Work: Theory, Research, and Practice. Sage Publications, Inc. 2007, pg. 53. Citing: Allen, T. D., Eby, L. T., Poteet, M. L., Lentz, E., & Lima L. (2004). “Career benefits associated with mentoring for protégés: A meta-analysis.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 127-136.3 – Id. at 61. Citing: Higgins, M. C., Thomas, D. A. (2001). “Constellations and careers: Toward understanding the effects of multiple developmental
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