• November 13, 2015

outstretched handThis post is a call to action. Please help.

There seems to be interest in the Minneapolis/St. Paul legal community for experienced lawyer mentors. There are junior lawyers who feel at sea in one sense or another. There are, believe it or not, experienced lawyers who look for the opportunities to help junior lawyers.

What, exactly, do you want though (both as mentees or as mentors)? Do you want:

  • A shoulder to cry on? (Or, for mentors, to provide emotional and social support to younger lawyers?)
  • “First response” crisis help? (Or, for mentors, to be the life-line to young lawyers in distress?)
  • Long term goal planning and strategy? (Or, for mentors, to shepherd and guide a novitiate with a fairly Herculean, if not impossible, goal?)
  • Nuts and bolts “skill development”? (Or, for mentors, to share hands-on information about the nitty-gritty details of lawyering or operating a small business?)

There are probably other ways in which a mentor might serve a mentee. What are some more?

I, along with about a half dozen other interested lawyers who contribute diverse insight, am on the Hennepin County Bar Association Mentoring Task Force. We are NOT necessarily developing a mentoring system (though we might be).

Our first tasks are to figure out what mentoring programs are out there, how do they work, how do they fail to work AND what do Minnesota lawyers want?

HELP US HELP THE MINNESOTA BAR AND THE STATE OF MINNESOTA. Please comment or send me an email privately if you prefer.

And here are some questions and proposed answers about mentoring:

Why would a successful lawyer, with all of the demands on her life, heap on additional demands of being a mentor and aren’t the lawyers who volunteer to mentor unsuccessful or less successful lawyers (so less able to help and offering less value)?

No, not really. Many lawyers, as they age, find deep satisfaction in contributing in the community. And the most successful lawyers are the best mentors. This, in fact, is part of their success. How could that be, you wonder? Read this and you will learn (and the book relies on empirical data, not idealism or wishful thinking).

Successful mentoring gives reciprocal benefits. It is a two-way street.

Isn’t it more appropriate for mentor/mentee relationships to develop within law firms than through the bar association?

Who is to say what is “appropriate”? There are certainly advantages that an “in-house” mentor can provide. He can, for example, evolve from being a mentor to sponsor, generously and concretely helping a junior lawyer succeed. On the other hand, some lawyers do not have the luxury of an “in-house” mentor at all. Others have mentor programs but there is no good “in-house” fit.

Are the pressures of billable hours so great for young lawyers that, adding on yet another work-related obligation, even if it is supposedly “for your own good,” is just too much?

That is certainly possible. If a lawyer works in a “sweat shop” or a “gunner’s paradise” and, particularly, if she is happy in that environment, she is unlikely to want to bother with a mentor. On the other hand, the number of lawyers who actually work 60-hour weeks is grossly exaggerated and the percentage of lawyers who do and who are happy is, in my experience, very small.

Aren’t mentor/mentee programs potential breeding grounds for inappropriate behavior like unwanted sexual attention or breaches of confidentiality?

Of course these risks exist, as they exist in all social activity. Presumably any mentorship program that anyone devises has process and procedure in place to deal with such problems which, over the long term, are inherent risks.


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