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Learning from Mentors

April 14, 2010

Last month, the Young Lawyers Division kicked off its Mentoring Program with a Mentoring Reception at the Crystal Tea Room.  Over 100 young lawyer mentors have been matched up with the same number of law student and new lawyer mentees through the program.  Matches were made based on several factors, including types of legal interests of the mentee.

When I first started working after graduating from law school, I had a “mentor” assigned by my law firm.  While I benefited from having an assigned mentor, he was also already Counsel and a bit removed from the whole “young lawyer” experience.  Knowing what I know now, if I was assigned a young lawyer mentor, I would have quite a few questions and topics to discuss.  So, here are just a few things that mentees should be looking to discuss with their respective mentors over coffee, e-mail or otherwise:

  • What mistakes should I look to avoid early in my career? – Oh, I remember the early days, when you’re somewhat going on the fly and trying to figure things out.  Oftentimes, it’s trial by error.  It certainly would have been helpful to be told what I should (and shouldn’t be doing).  You never know, but something you do early on could shape how your career at your firm goes.
  • What hours should I be working? – This issue regards not just how many hours one should work but also “when.”  You often start with very little work and sometimes, you may not have enough work given to you to bill 160-200 hours.  Still, if you are short on work, you should do what you can to ensure you’ve tried to get enough work to make expectations.  The “time” you work is somewhat important as well.  A partner who had an office near mine used to frown upon the times I would arrive at work close to 9 a.m., and he mentioned it to another associate (who passed it on to me).  From that point on, I started coming significantly earlier, and the partner duly noted it.  People may not admit it, but face time does matter.
  • What should I do if I want to look for another job? – It’s not that easy, particularly in this job market.  It’s not just finding who is hiring through legal recruiters.  You also have to ensure that you are a good candidate.  Do as much as you can at your current job, such as getting trial experience, and that helps you stand out.
  • How should I network? – Sure, there are some obvious answers, such as going to bar association events, but the answer is more complex.  Networking, in essence, is something you are doing all the time.  It’s how you present yourself to your colleagues, other counsel and prospective clients.  For instance, if you are handed an assignment by a senior partner, and you don’t approach it the right way or with the right attitude, you may not get another assignment from him or her again.  If you have to deal with opposing counsel on the phone, and you don’t sound like you know what you’re talking about or are unfriendly, you’ll either be taken advantage of or you won’t get a break from counsel in the future.  So, you should “network” by presenting yourself as you would hope someone would view you.
  • Where should I live? – If I had gotten some sound advice, I would never have lived in a hard-to-access apartment, and I would never have left the ease and comfort of Center City during my second year out of law school.  Stay in the city as a young lawyer, and choose your apartment wisely.

That’s just a few issues I wish I had discussed with a mentor back then.  But you live and you learn.

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