Mentorships: giving back to the next legal generation

Amy Katz
Bridgetower Media Newswires

Global pandemic. Social justice. Police violence. Racial bias. The year has been a tumultuous one, and no less so for the attorneys who are navigating the many legal, regulatory and compliance challenges that have arisen in recent months.

At a time of unrest, while often tempting to focus inward, many attorneys are reflecting on how they can effect change — both on a large and small scale. These efforts range from speaking out about societal change on a national platform to seeking ways to connect with others on an individual level.

As (author) Brené Brown said, “Connection is why we are here: It is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

One way lawyers form such connections is through mentor relationships. Mentorship provides both participants the opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship. Not only do mentees gain valuable professional guidance that’s based on experience, mentors frequently report that they too benefit in a number of significant ways.

By giving back to the next generation, mentoring attorneys often find that they are sharpening their own skills in the process, increasing their visibility among an important demographic in the workplace, and experiencing a sense of personal fulfillment.

Mentorship opportunities

Mentor relationships among attorneys are often created through established intra-organization networks that provide structure for the relationship, including pairing, suggested discussion/conversation topics, and accountability for both mentor and mentee.

For example, many law firms will offer mentor programs assigning new associates to a partner or senior associate to assist with directing the associate’s career path within the firm.

While not as common, larger in-house corporate legal departments may have mentorship programs that offer new legal team members guidance pertaining to internal client relationships as well as corporate politics and process, industry focus and workflow.

Recognizing that corporate legal departments do not typically create formal mentorship programs, the MOSAIC Collective offers in-house legal professionals from around the globe the opportunity to engage in mentoring relationships. Founded in London by former in-house counsel, the MOSAIC Collective pairs mentors with mentees within in-house legal departments across companies, industries and countries.

There are also a number of organizations that offer mentorship programs to foster career development among attorneys of a similar gender, race or ethnic background.

Legal professionals often recognize there is tremendous value in mentoring attorneys who are relatable because of their gender, race or ethnic background. These relationships facilitate the exploration of challenges through a similar lens from someone who “has been in the same shoes” (although perhaps a slightly different style, vintage or size).

It can be equally important for mentor relationships to be comprised of attorneys from a different gender or race to broaden one’s network and perspective. Such relationships are critical to ensure attorneys expand their networks and do not get siloed.

Mentoring can allow attorneys to engage with other lawyers from a different generation or background or with a diverse perspective. Experienced lawyers may not have deep connections with junior attorneys, and a mentor relationship offers a front row seat to the Gen X, Millennial or Gen Z mindsets.

For example, a younger attorney can assist a mentor with social media or the mentee can serve as a useful advisor when the mentor is facing a challenging conversation or situation with a more junior attorney on his or her team.

Recognizing this value, some organizations will intentionally create a “reverse” mentorship program for a more senior executive to be mentored by a junior professional. Such a program fosters the interconnectivity between the generations but is purposely intended for the more junior employee to mentor the more experienced professional.

While there is value in serving as a mentor through a formal program, many attorneys acknowledge that, as is the case with many relationships, the best mentorships often arise organically. These relationships frequently develop when a lawyer recognizes the talent and promise of a more junior attorney and takes the initiative to engage.

Sometimes these relationships evolve within the same workplace, although they can also develop through professional associations, networking and even via social media.

Value for the mentor

When asked, mentors typically identify personal fulfilment, pride and satisfaction as the greatest rewards from mentoring. They recognize that there is deep gratification in witnessing someone obtain his or her career goals and in the knowledge that the lawyer may have played even a small part in that accomplishment.

Experienced attorneys recognize that there was someone who reached up, down or sideways to help them achieve their goals — and it is satisfying to pay it forward to someone else. Sharing career advice as a mentor provides a window into appreciating one’s own experiences and accomplishments and the opportunity to pause and self-reflect.

Mentoring also provides both participants with the opportunity to gain and hone critical skills. Mentors often serve as a sounding board and coach, which are both valuable for experienced attorneys as well as those who are seeking a management role. Active listening is a core skill, and mentoring provides the opportunity to practice hearing and helping another professional without a direct management relationship.

Likewise, coaching another attorney fosters collaboration, trust-building and empathy, which are also signature traits of effective leaders.

Finally, mentor attorneys acknowledge that their mentor relationships are almost always reciprocal and long lasting with another smart, talented and accomplished attorney. As a result, mentors find their mentees can open doors and offer networking opportunities.

And, of course, just like other professional relationships that develop through work, mentors and mentees often become lifelong personal friends sharing valuable advice, perspective and insight on topics far beyond the workplace.

At this perhaps unprecedented time in history, there are a number of avenues that legal professionals can pursue to form these kinds of mutually beneficial relationships within their professional spheres, and give back both to their field and their community.


Amy Katz is a Boston-based managing director with In-House Counsel Recruiting at Major, Lindsey & Africa.