Mistakes to Avoid in Seeking a Mentor

Mistakes to Avoid in Seeking a Mentor

It's tough to go it alone. Navigating the business and legal world as a young lawyer can be difficult. There's a reason firms have an established associate -> junior partner -> partner  system. Having a system in place that helps develop and foster growth in new attorneys under the guidance of more experienced ones is at the core of the traditional law firm model. The old finders, minders, and grinders if you will. However, development as a new attorney has become more difficult as these roles have come to be blended together to some extent. Not to mention that many firms lack any sort of clearly developed mentor-ship program to help new associates.  Often it is left to the new attorney to find his own way and own seniors to help guide his or her career. When reaching out to potential mentors, here are three mistakes to avoid, via Tough Guide to Work:

  • Mistake 1: Searching for 'the one'

Obi Wan. Mr Miyagi. Dumbledore. Watching movies and reading fiction gives us the deep impression that we should be seeking some Gandalf-like figure in our professional lives. They will pop-up occasionally in our work to pass on sage wisdom. Whispering pithy guidance in our ear, we will go on to triumph & glory. We expect mentors to speak like Yoda. Instead we end up having coffee with an exhausted executive who it turns out has a couple of good ideas and a bunch of neuroses. We expect one person to embody everything we want to become, advise on all areas of our work and life and then it turns out instead we've been paired with a human being instead. How unfair.

...So instead of seeking one perfect mentor, I strongly advocate getting a "Board of Advisors". Seek out a selection of mentors who can offer guidance on a specific topic.

  • Mistake 2: Needing to make it official:

Senior executives I have spoken to say that they fear the junior employee who asks them to be their mentor. They worry that they don't have the time, that it will involve having to go for long dinners in trendy places with loud music. They'd prefer to be playing tennis, or spending time with their friends & family.

Some of the best mentoring I have had has been in the backs of taxis, during small talk at the end of work meetings and at friend's weddings at drinks before the long dinner. The other person probably doesn't see it as mentoring, just a friendly conversation with a young face.

  • Mistake 3: Confusing Mentors and Sponsors.

...the key insight is that there is a big difference between a 'Mentor' and a 'Sponsor'. Mentors offer "psychosocial" support for personal and professional development, plus career help that includes advice and coaching. On the other hand, sponsors actively advocate for your advancement. They give protégés exposure to other executives, they make sure their people are considered for promising opportunities and challenging assignments.

Just a few things to keep in mind when working with mentors. If you'e in law school, the time to find mentors is now. If you're already a new associate and don't feel as though you have any reliable mentors, the time to find some is yesterday. Make it a priority.

Keith Lee is a Law Clerk, third-year law student and author of the blog, An Associate's Mind.