MENTORING Debbie Dodd, PsyD For those not familiar with mentorship, a mentoring relationship is one in which a more experienced person helps a less experienced person develop and advance at work. The mentor is an experienced, high ranking, influential, senior organizational member who is committed to providing upward mobility and support to a mentee’s personal and professional development. A mentee is typically in the early stages of his or her career and has high career aspirations. The benefits of a mentoring relationship are many, both professional and personal. In fact, mentoring is related to important career outcomes, such as salary level, promotion rate, and job satisfaction, among other outcomes. Studies that measured the outcomes of mentoring have found that mentees enjoy benefits that are both intangible (e.g., recognition, job satisfaction) and tangible (e.g., increased compensation, promotions). These studies also confirm that a mentor’s coaching and support motivate mentees to strive for excellence and success. Newly hired attorneys frequently rely on paralegals and legal secretaries to assist with project management or bureaucratic procedures. However, a mentoring relationship would better enable less experienced attorneys to access resources and allow these individuals to forge relationships at a faster rate than without a mentoring relationship. The changing nature of management structures affects how new attorneys seek and receive organizational and professional development. As law firms continue to expand into new markets and align and collaborate with other organizations and law firms to conduct virtual business, employees will look beyond intraorganizational sources to discover alternatives to develop. The process of mentorship may also become increasingly more complex, as the nature of work and institutional roles for the mentee and mentor continuously evolves. A wealth of knowledge and wisdom can be discovered within the enclaves of a private law firm. A mentoring program can provide a formal outlet for a more experienced attorney to share knowledge and wisdom with less experienced attorneys. Mentoring programs in law firms can also streamline succession planning processes and tighten social fabric; telling stories, sharing lessons learned, and teaching seminars are ways attorneys transfer knowledge in formal ways. Mentoring also occurs outside of formal mentoring programs. However, mentoring programs are necessary to regularly access the various resources that attorneys possess, and an organizational commitment to generational mentoring is vital to the effective transfer of knowledge in law firms. Today’s attorneys place a great deal of importance on having mentors who can help them develop the self-confidence, institutional savvy, legal skills, and professional connections they need to achieve their goals and ambitions. Emotional support such as friendship and caring can play a particularly important role across a variety of life stressors by enabling an individual to maintain his or her self-esteem. Particularly in an up-or-out work environment, such as a large law firm, receiving psychosocial support that then enhances self-esteem should ease daily pressures and, hence, increase an associate’s satisfaction with work. 1
When questioned about lawyer dissatisfaction and law firm attrition, younger lawyers repeatedly pointed to the lack of mentoring as a principal reason for leaving their law firms. Talented young attorneys want to excel, and they work exceptionally hard. They understand that they cannot depend on their law firms for tenure but must rely on their own wits and abilities. In return for their intelligence and hard work, they expect their employers to help them acquire the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their firms or elsewhere. A law firmâ€™s participation in a mentoring program sends the message to young attorneys that they care. After all, why would a law firm take the time and energy to mentor and train someone if they did not value them and see their potential? The availability of mentoring is a factor that younger attorneys consider in deciding to join a law firm. Employers who can demonstrate their commitment to career development have a significant recruiting advantage over their competitors. Mentoring is a highly effective way to give young attorneys the practical training, development opportunities, and personal attention they need. Being an attorney involves far more than exercising a set of technical skills. Even the brightest and most successful law students know little about the practice of law when they graduate. Attorneys learn the most about how to practice law once they begin working in the profession. Law firms send a tremendous amount of money to recruit new attorneys and then pay them enormous salaries while still having to train them to practice law. Because of the large investment firms make in hiring new attorneys, it is critical that new attorneys become proficient and profitable as quickly as possible. Law schools are designed to teach students the intellectual discipline of law; legal principles, interpretation and analysis, and approaches to problem solving are all skills that are needed to succeed in law. In order to become effective practitioners, new lawyers must be able to apply what they learned to real problems in the workplace. Those who have had clinical courses or internships during law school may come to their new firms with a taste of what the practice of law is like, but their experience is limited and rarely as stressful or complicated as what they will face in full-time practice. A person does not learn to drive a car by reading an instruction book or attending a seminar. He or she needs to actually drive the car, maneuver through traffic, and learn to watch out for other drivers. Learning begins under the watchful eye of a driving instructor, who cautions, guides, and gradually lets the student go. In the same way, young attorneys can acquire insight and judgment under the tutelage of an experienced attorneymentor who guides them through repeated and intense exposure to real and complex legal problems. New attorneys must learn how law is practiced and how and why the legal process works as it does. They must develop good professional judgment and become confident practitioners. Some of this can be taught through workshops and seminars, but real understanding and good professional judgment come with time, experience, and reflections, not from a book or lecture.