Ten years ago, I started volunteering with the Central Florida Association for Women Lawyers. I’m proud to say that I’ve met some amazing women through that organization. Some of those women were my mentors, and if not for them, I would not be where I am today: a happy, productive, and reasonably successful solo attorney with a growing practice.
Our profession has a long tradition of mentoring young attorneys. After several years of practice, you shift from mentee to mentor rather naturally. I believe in paying it forward, and I’ve been blessed to mentor some great young lawyers. But recently, I’ve expanded to mentoring other professionals outside of the law.
I had breakfast this morning with Michelle. She is a young mom working in the financial services business as well as having a start-up business on the side, which is how we met. She was my client first, my friend second, and now my mentee. We meet every month for breakfast and talk about her business, her family, and her life. And mine too, don’t get me wrong, but I’m definitely in the mentor role at these breakfasts.
I am honored that she asked me to mentor her. She’s bright, entrepreneurial, respectful, and very competitive. She’s a new mom working on two businesses who still finds time for friends and family. She will get anything she goes after, and it’s exciting to be a part of her upward trajectory.
Today she brought a friend from work with her. Michelle wanted her to see how a good mentoring relationship works because the friend is having difficulty finding a mentor. When she asked me where to look for a mentor, instead of recommending that she talk to others in the financial services industry, I told her to go find an experienced solo or small firm lawyer.
There are three main reasons why she should want a lawyer for a mentor:
First, lawyers listen and give advice as part of the job. Who better to advise to a young business person? We listen well, and then we give advice tailored to the situation. And we don’t just give any advice – we give measured, practical, and very sound advice. As mentors, we are the perfect people to help them grow and mature as professionals.
Second, every solo or small firm lawyer works for himself/herself. Once we’ve practiced law for a few years, we know how to make it rain, we are champion networkers, and we know how to run a business. Every problem a young business person is likely to encounter, we’ve already encountered.
Third, it pays to have a lawyer for a mentor. People respect a lawyer’s opinion, and if we refer business to another professional, it’s likely that they will respect that referral too. One of the best things I have done for Michelle is to send business prospects her way. Then, when the people I referred tell me how things went (and they do), I give feedback to Michelle.
You might be reluctant to take on the mentor role, especially with a non-lawyer. But the mentor reaps benefits as well. Honestly, I think I get more out of it than my mentee does!
If you choose your mentee well, they will make you look good. If I refer someone to Michelle, she is prompt with her follow-up and takes great care of her clients. That makes me look like I know what I’m talking about. I’m happy to share my contacts with Michelle because she treats each referral like gold. As a side benefit, I’m the first lawyer she thinks of when she’s got a referral, so it really is a win/win relationship.
Mentoring is also a great way to round out your contact sphere. Just as I have worked to connect Michelle with people who can help her career, Michelle introduces me to people who can help me. Mentoring is, in part, networking on steroids. You bring in your knowledge and contacts, and so does the mentee. Again, win/win.
You get to grow with your mentee. Sometimes I see myself from ten years ago in Michelle’s eyes. Sometimes I hear my own mentors’ voices when I speak to her. But often, she presents me with a problem I simply never encountered as an attorney, or asks me a question I never thought about. It makes me think about business outside of the lawyer box, and that’s a very healthy thing.
Finally, you get to pay it forward. Just like someone held your hand and talked you through your first trial or drafting your first contract, you have the opportunity to help a young professional deal with their firsts. You get to celebrate their victories and help them pick themselves up after defeats. And if you are very lucky, you will make a friend for life.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.