Find Your Feet Faster With the Help of a Mentor

It’s an open secret that law students emerge from law school knowing loads about law, and frighteningly little about legal practice. How students cope with this gap depends on many factors, including personality, the nature of their first job (whether it’s as a sole practitioner, or in a large firm) and their tolerance for learning on the fly. Too often, new lawyers assume that the only choice they have is to “fake it until they make it” and pray that they don’t make any serious errors on the way.

But there are strategies for improving your chances of making the right decisions early on, and one of the best is to find a mentor — especially if you will be working in a setting where you don’t have natural access to other lawyers’ expertise.

Finding the right person and gathering up the courage to ask him or her to mentor you are often the hardest steps; you can make it a little easier, however, by taking advantage of an existing mentor referral service. Here are some examples:

  • the Law Society of Upper Canada Mentorship Program
  • the Ontario Bar Association’s Mentorship Program
  • the Advocates’ Society has two initiatives, a “roster mentorship” that provides practical advice and a “shadowing” mentorship program that provides an experienced lawyer that will attend court and provide a critique: click here for more information; and finally;
  • several CPD providers offer “mentoring dinners” that usually consist of an opening presentation highlighting different scenarios or issues, followed by a small group discussion over dinner and then a summary discussion.

Once you’ve found your mentor, have a look at practicePRO’s “Managing a Mentoring Relationship” booklet to help establish the terms of engagement for the mentorship, and to learn more about how, under certain conditions, LAWPRO will waive surcharges on claims made against lawyers acting as mentors in a mentoring relationship.

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Comments

  1. Dan, do these programs exist only for young lawyers? What provisions does the legal world make for mid-career professionals?

  2. Thomas Harrison

    Good piece. Doesn’t make reference to ‘young lawyers’, though that may be assumed by some, so a good comment above. On this note, a few observations:

    1) People change jobs a lot nowadays – even change careers, so it is not just ‘young lawyers’ who can benefit.

    2) Everyone can use a good mentor. The most senior people I know, and trust, still have others they rely on to perform this function.

    3) In any event, ‘mentors’ come in all shapes and sizes and age is no guarantee, in my experience, of wisdom.

    Having said this, like the article and completely agree that finding the right mentor for any particular individual is key.

  3. Mentorship is essential for new lawyers and experienced lawyers. It’s a reciprocal relationship. Mentorship renews a sense of career fulfilment in mentors, that can easily become buried under the pressures of daily practice. ‘Sponsorship’ is another option, where a senior practitioner leverages his/her influence to benefit a less experienced junior or someone trying to build credibility in a new realm. I’ve benefitted from both!