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Practice Pointers

Tips on Finding a Mentor

July 19, 2022

In the past, mentors often initiated a relationship with their chosen protégés, but today mentees are proactive in seeking an experienced professional to guide their success.

Before seeking out a mentor, know what you want to accomplish in a mentoring relationship, be it career growth, lawyering skills, strategies for work–life balance, enhanced professionalism, advice on starting a small firm, etc. Assess the contributions you can make to the relationship — what you have to offer the mentor. Define the reasons why someone would want to mentor you — why they should take the time to invest in your future. Share these at the appropriate time with your prospective mentor as you cultivate the relationship.

Conventional wisdom once held that you and your mentor should have much in common to make for a successful relationship. However, mismatches often make the best matches. Current thinking holds that it’s valuable to have a mentor with a different background and skills to provide a refreshing and challenging learning experience, rather than a confirmation of your existing knowledge.

Also, seek a person who does not play a supervisory role at work so that you can have an open and honest dialogue without hesitation.

Now that you have an idea of what you’re looking for, how do you find a mentor?

  • You may already have someone you occasionally contact to answer questions about case procedures or your practice. Consider asking that person to be your mentor.
  • Mentors are most often found through networking. Participate in professional activities to meet lawyers who may be willing to mentor. For D.C. Bar-sponsored activities, visit the online events calendar.
  • Spend some time in court to observe other attorneys. If you see a lawyer who exhibits skills or a demeanor that you admire, contact that person by sending an email or letter. Invite the lawyer to a business lunch (your treat) to discuss commonalities. If the first meeting works, ask to schedule another.
  • Search LinkedIn, Facebook, or online lawyer databases such as Martindale to find biographical information about lawyers who may have experience and characteristics you are trying to find in a mentor.
  • Join a voluntary bar association to find lawyers with similar interests or backgrounds.
  • Place an ad in your law school alumni newsletter. You need not give your name, but include some characteristics you are seeking in the mentor. Give only workplace contact information.

If it makes you feel more comfortable, ask someone to be a mentor for just one aspect of your practice, such as trial skills or client development.

Traditional mentoring is one on one, but today small groups are often better able to meet the needs of lawyers. Consider forming a small group with one or two senior lawyers, several mid-career lawyers, and several lawyers who have been in practice less than five years.

Remember that you may need several mentors throughout your legal career. Different lawyers have different knowledge and skills, just as you have varying needs over the course of your professional development. You may have several mentors at one time to help you with different aspects of practice, or you may have one primary mentor, with others who assist you on a less frequent basis.