June 30, 2022

You’re Not Alone: Finding a Mentor

BY: Carrie Macon

Today is the day you’ve been waiting for years. You graduated law school, passed the bar, and now you get to be a “real lawyer.” You walk into your new office eager to get started. Maybe you walk back into the office in which you worked for a few months before you got word that you are now a (bar) card-carrying, licensed attorney. You are given your first assignments, which may or may not come with the level of supervision and collaboration you are accustomed to as a law student or unlicensed clerk. Suddenly, you are flooded with the thought — I have no idea what I am doing.

Maybe you have been practicing for a few years, and you make a career change and jump into an area of the law that you haven’t studied in years or at all. Despite all your accomplishments, similar thoughts about your abilities cross your mind.

These thoughts may be especially pervasive in the minds of those attorneys who work in offices without the benefit of a large number of colleagues, new solo practitioners without the benefit of a bank of resource materials, those in the field of general practice who are exposed to a wide range of new-to-them legal issues, those working in more rural areas of the Commonwealth with fewer networking opportunities, as well as those attorneys who are particularly prone to self-doubt. These thoughts are also why it is important to seek out mentors after you leave the hotbed of mentorship that comes with being in a law school.

Reasons to Find a Mentor Early in Your Career

  • You may not have gotten a chance to practice depositions, draft a particular type of contract, or appear before a particular judge. Mentors can help you cultivate skills and fill in gaps left unfilled by law school or a previous position. Even if you don’t think you have many gaps in your knowledge, mentors can help you identify your blind spots.
  • Grow your self-confidence and protect your mental health.
  • You never know when your mentor will help you get that next dream job.

Finding Your Mentor

  • If you work with more experienced attorneys, do not be afraid to ask those in your office for advice. Everyone was new once. Even before you need specific advice, ask a more experienced attorney to grab coffee. Learn about their career path. Ask them what they wish they had known when they were in your shoes. Take the time to forge relationships.
  • Identify the areas in which you need mentorship the most. Do you need help managing your workload or with substantive or procedural matters related to your practice? Do you need help managing your mind and feelings surrounding your work? Do you need help marketing yourself to grow your practice? Self-reflection is key to make the most of your mentor/mentee relationship and may help guide you to the right mentor.
  • Make time to observe others, even if you cannot bill the time or it prevents you from checking another item off your never-ending to-do list. Ask a partner if you can sit in on a deposition or mediation. Take a morning when nothing is pressing and observe court proceedings. Think you may practice in federal court? If you live or work near a federal court, check the court calendar and sit in on a hearing. It will allow you to see and possibly meet others who practice in your area, learn styles you would like to emulate, and will make you a better advocate for your clients. It’s worth your time, and as lawyers, our quest for knowledge and growth should not end at law school graduation.
  • Stay in contact with your law school professors, classmates, and career services faculty members. If they cannot help you, they probably know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who can.
  • Consider finding a career coach with an understanding of the legal profession — either a local coach or one who offers virtual sessions. Mentors can come in all forms, and career coaches can help you manage your time, make decisions related to job changes, and manage your mental health.
  • Reach out to those who run CLEs. These individuals have already demonstrated a willingness to help others be better lawyers.
  • Take the YLC Mentorship Survey. The YLC launched a Mentorship Network in 2019 to address the need new attorneys have for mentorship. This Network offers new attorneys the opportunity to receive guidance and advice from experienced, senior attorneys.

Finally, if and when you feel like the experienced attorney ready to serve in a mentorship capacity, pay back the favor and be that person for someone else. Reach out to a local law school and offer to talk to students. Seek out new attorneys in your area who may be struggling to find a mentor. Attend networking events in which younger lawyers may be present. Be the person you needed.

About the Author

Carrie Macon is a 2020 graduate of Washington and Lee University School of Law. After graduating, she practiced with a law firm in Abingdon, Virginia, where she was an Associate in the firm’s Insurance Defense and Commercial Litigation practice groups. She now serves as a Law Clerk for the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Abingdon. She is a 10th District Representative for the Young Lawyers Conference and Secretary for the Abingdon/SWVA Chapter of the Virginia Women Attorneys Association. She can be contacted at [email protected].