The Informal Mentor
Now in my second year of practice, I am often faced with challenges. They are a topic of discussion among my fellow attorneys each week, sometimes every day.
I am always asking them questions: “How many days do I have to respond to a motion for summary judgment? Where do I want to be in five years? How do I get there? Can I really pull off a v-neck sweater with this blazer?” The answers are not always readily available, but the conversations are important nonetheless. These colleagues come from different backgrounds and each has forged his or her own career path. They are my informal mentors. There are no prescribed events we attend, outlined topics, or checklists we must submit for review, but our relationships do require ongoing participation with open communication in the pursuit of learning and professional growth.
Certainly, there is a place for formal mentorship programs. Most large firms use them to help new attorneys adjust to the culture, and here in Oregon, all newly minted lawyers are required to participate in the Oregon State Bar Mentorship program. The program has received positive feedback as it enters its third year and serves as a valuable tool for many, including me. I am a strong proponent of such programs. It is only through the OSB Mentorship program that I was lucky enough to meet and receive advice and insight from one of the most preeminent personal injury attorneys in Oregon, Bill Gaylord ’73. We meet regularly so that we can complete a series of tasks required within your first reporting year, or, as is my case, the following year if a mentor is not assigned directly after you are first admitted to the bar. I am lucky to have such an experienced mentor and truly enjoy our “formal” meetings. But this approach is not the only way to develop a constructive mentor-mentee relationship.
An informal mentorship, like a more formal one, should focus on sharing experience and imparting knowledge. Informal mentoring generally has a more organic origin and no prescribed program or events. It is the form that differs, not the function.
So consider this an invitation, a solicitation—or rather, an appeal. Take time to develop the personal connections that help make our community worth being a part of. Cultivate an informal mentorship with another legal professional this year.
Your informal mentorship may develop from working at the same firm, meeting at a CLE or bar event, attending a local club or alumni function, or through a case. One of my favorite mentee-mentor relationships developed while I was a second-year student at the Lewis & Clark Legal Clinic, after negotiating a settlement with an attorney in an eviction case. That attorney and I still periodically meet for lunch and discuss our latest and greatest. We both recognize the value of the relationship and make time to nurture it. A mentorship can start anywhere as long as the individuals are open to the experience and create the time for it.
You! This is an invitation, remember?
Your mentor or mentee can be anyone in the field, but I’d like you to consider reaching out to a Lewis & Clark Law School alum. Wherever we are in our careers and wherever we live, our experience at Lewis & Clark binds us together. The more we develop our connections to one another, the stronger we will be as individuals and as a community.
When and Where
There is no prescribed time or place. I urge you to be proactive when the opportunity presents itself. For some, meeting new people and making connections is natural and easy. If you are like me, it requires some effort.
Try meeting regularly over coffee with attorneys at all levels in your office. Coffee breaks allow for conversation that can easily roll from work to career goals. The next time you are at a CLE or bar event, introduce yourself around. You may be surprised by who you know, and by who knows of you. Cold-calling can also be an effective starting point for a mentee. In my experience, people want to help those in need. When I’ve made such a request over the phone or in person, I have never had a more seasoned attorney refuse to talk with me about their practice. This approach may earn you an opportunity to meet with someone one on one, and it demonstrates that you have a genuine interest in them and their work. We all know lawyers love to talk about themselves—sometimes you just need to give them an opening.
The benefits of a mentorship are consistently touted within the legal profession. Personally, I appreciate the comfort of an informal mentor-mentee relationship where I can make a quick call or email someone about a challenging attorney I am facing or the finer points of how to read Oregon’s new electronic filing system, eCourt. (I’m still working on that one.) In general, mentees gain practical advice, reassurance, and an opportunity to discover and more freely discuss the varied issues they face. Mentors further their leadership and communication skills and often gain a new perspective on familiar issues. When both mentor and mentee are alums, the positive effects can also benefit our alumni community.
A mentor can be a lifeline for a mentee. It can be incredibly difficult to resolve personal issues with a boss or navigate the procedural rules of the local bar without advice from someone who has seen a similar situation or knows the rules by heart. Facing an aggressive opponent? An unwavering judge? Your mentor—or mentee, for that matter—may have dealt with these parties before and have some insights to share.
Building a strong professional network is important in almost all professions, and law is no different. Those of you who have already achieved a high level of success can attest to the necessity of these relationships. It is difficult to be successful without the help of others. So why not strengthen the network we already have in place as alumni? It starts with an introduction. What follows is up to you.
Consider accepting my invitation. Don’t worry about sending an RSVP—nothing so formal is required. The Recent Graduate Council and I thank you in advance. We look forward to meeting you.
David C. Boyer ’12, an associate attorney at Tomasi Salyer Baroway, is a member of the Recent Graduate Council (RGC) and submitted this article on its behalf.