“What you need is a mentor!” Everyone keeps telling you to find a mentor. But if you knew how to get one, you would probably already have one, right? When you look at the people around you, it may be that you already have a mentor—you just haven’t attached that word to the relationship. But if you really can’t name the person in your life who plays that role, it’s time to find one—or more!
It’s Going to Take Some Initiative
Admittedly, it’s hard to find something you haven’t defined. So, first, get clear about what you are looking for. Imagine someone who could help you focus on skill development, understand career paths, manage politics in the office, introduce you to people who count or even set long-term goals. That’s what you’re looking for!
- Look inside the ranks of your current employer. Who are the people more senior to you who seem to take time to help you understand something, include you in work-related conversations, or whose work you have admired? These are the people you should consider seeking out as potential mentors. If your firm doesn’t have a formal mentoring program, that doesn’t mean senior people don’t serve as mentors. Ask a colleague you admire if they have the time to meet with you more frequently to help in your development. It is a flattering request difficult to refuse.
- Ask someone a few years senior to you. The other lawyers you work with have probably found a mentor. How did they do it? Early in your career, it seems like you spend your entire day asking questions, but this is one that can pay big dividends. Those more senior to you will have a lot of thoughts about who makes the best mentor and why. They’ve been there. Seek their input. Ask them who else to ask. This is how you build a network, and it may help you find a mentor.
- Check back in with your law school. Particularly if you are still living in the city where you went to law school, go back to your career services or alumni office for advice. If you have worked closely with the career office during your time in law school, they want you to succeed. So does the alumni office. (How else will they be able to ask you later for a donation?) Ask for some names of alumni known for their mentoring abilities. Or ask for a list of local graduates, do some research and make the connections yourself. Graduates of your school, even if you are working in a different city than your alma mater, are likely to take an interest in your development and success.
- Contact the bar association. Most bar associations have a young lawyers section or division. Frequently they will pair up with more senior members or committees of the bar for meetings or links to specific practice areas. The personnel at the bar association are also familiar with the active members of the association who have been known to take a strong interest in junior members of the bar. Talk to them. No one is ever uncomfortable making a positive recommendation of someone who is a member of their organization. They like to make these kinds of referrals. If you contact a bar member to ask them for lunch or coffee because you were told they were a terrific resource, how could they refuse?
- Approach someone you admire. As a young lawyer just getting started in your career, you are wise to read anything and everything that you can get your hands on about your new practice arena. To that end, you will come across lawyers who write or teach in your field. Make note of those whose approach is most attractive to you. Rather than just wishing that you could meet them, take the bold step of reaching out. You will likely be pleasantly surprised to find they are more than willing to meet with you and offer advice on how to become skilled in your field.
Don’t wait for someone to swoop in and take on this role in your career development. Chances are it will never happen. Take the initiative and find people who want to invest in you. Remember that every successful career requires the counsel of many other professionals. Your search starts now.
Wendy Werner is a career coach and practice management consultant for lawyers and professional services firms at Werner Associates, LLC, as well as an award-winning photographer. She writes the Careers column for ABA Law Practice magazine, and is a frequent contributor to The St. Louis Lawyer and Law Practice Today. Wendy has a master’s degree in Personnel Administration and Counseling from Indiana University, and served as the Assistant Dean of Career Services at Saint Louis University School of Law.