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January 27, 2014

Three Remarkable Benefits of Mentoring

by contributor
handshake
Gain new perspective and become a better lawyer by mentoring.

handshakeEveryone knows a new attorney needs mentors. The mentee gets invaluable benefits from a successful mentor-mentee relationship. The harder benefits to calculate are the mentor’s, though we often hear the familiar drumbeat of an opportunity to “give back” and the rewards of “staying connected” (all true). Whatever shape it’s taken, being of service has been utterly soul-fulfilling to me, and literally rocked my world at times. Here are three less talked about mentor benefits:

A new perspective.

If you are feeling in the least bit jaded about your work or the profession at large, if you find yourself complacent or bored by the minutia your practice area seems to abound in, there is no better cure than fostering a dynamic mentor-mentee relationship. A good mentee still revels in the honor and importance in what we do, still believes in the brilliance of the legal profession. A mentor’s sense of meaning will be reinvigorated by seeing her work through the mentee’s eyes. At the same time, a mentee will get help with those day-to-day realities and a seasoned perspective. The juxtaposition of these two perspectives — the macro and the micro — will enrich both lawyers’ work lives.

I especially recommend this to any lawyer who laments the loss of civility in the profession. This is a variation on the adage, “If you want to fix your spouse/boss/lover/friend, then you should go to counseling.” If you think the “youngsters” coming into the profession have no civility and don’t know how to behave, the best remedy is to step in and show them what you mean.

You actually become a better lawyer.

Have you ever tried to teach something you thought you understood perfectly, only to find the person you are teaching still has questions? She can’t read your mind. What seems clear as day to you does not to her. Start again and revise your approach. Eventually you two both “get it” better than you ever had it before. Becoming a “teacher of law” will make you a better lawyer.

This applies even if you don’t have the answer — when the two of you figure it out together, it becomes ingrained in your minds fundamentally. Some of the best mentors are just a few years ahead of the mentee: you have oodles of empathy for the newer lawyer experience, but you have more solidity in a subject where she needs a footing. Perfect! But even if you’ve been around the block a few times, this will apply to you, too. Part of our work is the law, but part of it is a mastery of humanity and thinking creatively about how to communicate with people about the law and practical matters successfully. Mentoring will bolster and give purpose to this latter part.

You’ve come a long way.

Becoming a mentor gives you an opportunity to reflect on how far you have come. Clear evidence of your accomplishments will be displayed in relief for you to reflect on and enjoy. We are storytellers. We often revel in history and the saga. This enlightens you to your own history and helps you construct that saga. If you think that doesn’t sound compelling, give it a try. I think you will find it downright magical.

Let us know your greatest benefit from mentoring — add your own experience to the story in the comments below.

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