Should You Mentor?

Yes. Most definitely, yes. The harder question is who to take on as your mentee or protégé.

Managing a Mentoring Relationship published by LawPro offers the following summary of mentoring.

Mentoring relationships can be informal and unstructured, more complex and procedure-based, or somewhere in between. But no matter what form they take, the structure of the relationship is not as important as the learning that occurs. We all thrive when we learn in the presence and with the help of others who have gone before us.

Mentors do more than simply pass on knowledge and information. They impart lessons on the art and science of living, and, in the case of lawyers, the art and science of the practice of law. And through the very act of mentoring, they help others acquire vital knowledge and skills more quickly, and often more effectively, than if it was acquired through the “school of hard knocks.

As this quotation illustrates, “mentor” is both a noun that describes the senior person in a relationship and a verb that describes what the relationship does. As the same source suggests, “at its most basic level mentoring is the passing on of skills, knowledge and wisdom from one person to another.”

Mentoring is a personal relationship and involves sharing personal information. As such, mentors should have a say in who they mentor. However, as the demand for mentors usually outstrips the supply some mentors feel they don’t have the choice to say “no”. But making a sound choice is important for both the mentor and the mentee. We can all probably think of examples where a purported mentoring relationship went wrong, sometimes badly wrong.

While mentees are often encouraged to think about what they should look for in a mentor, it is equally important for mentors to think about what they want to see in a mentee. Oprah is reported to have said, “I mentor when I see something and say, ‘I want to see that grow.’” What is the seed of potential that you want to help develop in another lawyer? What are the skills, knowledge and wisdom that you are ready to commit to that growth process? Do you have the ability and the time to make that commitment at this point? Thinking in advance about your role as a mentor gives you a framework for assessing potential mentees. If you don’t have a sincere interest in the other lawyer and their development, you owe it to them to say “no”. They will be better off with someone else who is sincerely interested.

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