You’ve been told you need a mentor, but how do you find one?
When I first decided to hang my own shingle, it seemed that the most common advice I heard was that I needed to find a mentor. “Great!” I thought, “but where are they?” If you know you need and want a mentor, but aren’t sure where to find one, here are my suggestions.
Several professional organizations offer formal mentoring programs like the trial lawyers’ association (Washington State Association for Justice) and King County Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. Law schools like SU and UW also offer mentoring programs to law and business students. I personally have been matched with mentors through WSAJ and SU, and I found both experiences to be positive. My assigned mentor met with me monthly, acted as a sounding board for my ideas, and even let me shadow depositions. If you haven’t yet found a mentor organically, I recommend giving a formal program a shot.
I must have had 100 informational interviews in my first six months of being a solo attorney. One out of those 100 ended up being my mentor. I think you can have a great mentorship experience from an organic or formal mentorship and can have both types of mentors simultaneously! My informal mentor met with me as needed, taught me about new areas of law, gave me tips on how to handle client consultations, and even offered to help me in my first trial. If you think you might want to find a mentor organically, but you don’t want to go through 100 informational interviews, I suggest you be a little more targeted in your approach. You don’t need to have coffee with every lawyer in town; set up informational interviews with people that you’ve met once, share a mutual acquaintance with, or who share your areas of practice or interests. I found meeting with solos to be more helpful than meeting with everyone, and it was actually a mutual colleague who introduced me to the lawyer who later became my mentor.
Don’t discount the folks you already know. If you went to law school or are from the geographic are in which you practice, that includes college or law school professors, family friends, or previous employers. Make it known you are looking for a mentor. You never know when someone you know might have a recommendation for someone you should talk with, even if he or she can’t mentor you personally.
In the end, I think the two most important components to finding a mentor are persistence and optimism. Don’t be afraid to have coffee with someone you don’t know or accept that someone you met was not a good fit or is unable to act as a mentor. There are lawyers out there who are willing to mentor younger lawyers; you just have to put in the effort to meet them and be communicative and open about where you are in your practice and what you are looking for.