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I have always considered myself an introvert. I always admire those individuals who show no restraint as their laughter booms across the room, or who talk nonstop and excitedly to someone they have just met. But, alas, that has never been me.
As such, I struggled, particularly early on in my legal career, to connect with the colleagues and mentors all lawyers need to know to advance and succeed in their career. Through trial and error, I learned how to find the right ones to connect with who could mentor me, either formally or informally. To my delight, there are many ways to find mentorship and help from fellow lawyers, whether you are new to the practice of law or a seasoned practitioner. The questions never end.
Most state bars and law societies have mentorship programs to assist solo and small firm lawyers in finding the support they need. Senior and midlevel lawyers volunteer their time to provide short-term or long-term mentorship to lawyers who self-identify via a separate mentoring application. It has been well-documented that solo practitioners often struggle to build strong networks, and these programs aim to fill that gap. The programs are already paid for as part of your annual dues and licensing fees, so why not take advantage of the help?
Added bonus: Some mentorship and coaching programs qualify for continuing legal education credits. Ask your CLE regulator for information. I have personally benefited from a mentorship program provided by my provincial regulator, which I used at a time when I was restarting and rebranding my practice. Mentorship programs can focus on specific practice areas, or target specific demographics.
Akin to state bar and law society mentorship programs, many voluntary bar associations also offer mentorship programs. Again, these programs are normally included in the membership fee, so file an application if you are looking for support.
Lawyer referral services are not just for the public, although that is their main purpose. I have had lawyers use the law society’s lawyer referral service to find me when they needed to refer a file and didn’t have the name of a specific lawyer. I have also used lawyer referral services myself to refer out files and to ask specific substantive law questions. There are also many private lawyer referral services online that can connect you to a potential mentor. In addition, if you are member of a roster such as an employee assistance program (EAP) lawyer roster, ask the roster manager for a referral to a lawyer who could assist you. I did exactly that when I needed some help, and it has been a valuable relationship.
Lawyers who volunteer their time for bar leadership positions are typically “in the know.” Bar association involvement exposes executive and committee members to hundreds, if not thousands, of lawyers throughout their tenure. Thus, they are usually in a good position to refer you to the right lawyer.
Do you volunteer for charities, nonprofits or other organizations? Programs that explicitly require lawyer volunteers are fantastic ways to connect with potential mentors. You already have one thing in common from the start: a shared passion for a charitable cause.
I have had great experiences making contacts at CLE programs and continuing those relationships after the event. I wound up getting some estate law advice from an attorney I met at a conference and, in turn, I connected her with a lawyer in her jurisdiction when she needed help with succession planning for her firm. Another lawyer I met years ago at a conference for junior litigators mentored me informally, and I referred files to him.
If the thought of going to any in-person CLE makes you cringe, try volunteering to be part of the event’s planning committee (or even a speaker). Involvement in planning an event automatically draws attendees to you.
Do not overlook the vast knowledge of non-lawyer legal professionals, especially those who have worked supporting attorneys and law firms for many years. Administrators, marketing professionals, paralegals, court clerks and even process servers can be excellent sources of information to direct you to the right lawyer for a mentorship relationship.
LinkedIn is a great tool for finding lawyers to connect with, especially if you need to locate a lawyer outside your particular jurisdiction. I have met lawyers primarily via LinkedIn and Twitter who I would not have connected with otherwise. It is relatively easy to take the online relationship offline by meeting for a networking lunch, for example. I am always amazed at how many local lawyers connect first online. I have also had lawyers from other countries contact me for a variety of reasons, and I have done the same.
I have learned that my shyness and trepidation in reaching out was unfounded. In my experience, lawyers have always been willing to help, whether through short-term or long-term mentorship commitments or by answering a quick question on the spot. Some help, if not most, will be free. But shy or otherwise, infringing on another’s busy schedule beyond what they have agreed to offer is a fast way to end a relationship. I always offer to pay, especially when significant help is requested. I see it as an investment in my continuing legal education.
In addition, I truly believe people get help when it is evident they are willing to do the work themselves to move their careers forward, and when the mentees show that they will pay that help forward someday.
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