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Four Reasons You Need a Mentor

By: Mark C. Palmer, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism

December 18, 2018

On November 8, 2018, several Illinois Supreme Court and Illinois Appellate Court justices welcomed 1,283 new attorneys to the legal profession during admissions ceremonies at five locations across the Land of Lincoln. This brings the total number of Illinois licensed attorneys to approximately 98,000.

But their professional journey has just begun. New lawyers must maintain an elevated level of professionalism to best serve themselves, their clients, and the rule of law. Connecting with a mentor can help shape a new lawyer’s professional self, while honing their skills and establishing their values.

Below are some key benefits to adding a mentor to your career journey.

1. Strategic Advantage
The measure of an exceptional law firm is the quality of its lawyers through the legal services they deliver. A formalized mentoring program can vastly accelerate firm acclimatization, leading to increased retention and job satisfaction.

Firms and organizations with a structured mentoring program have an essential competitive advantage. Mentorship provides a vehicle for building new relationships and identifying proper placement among organizational operating structures. Thus, a firm with a culture of close collaboration, born out of the practices of mentoring, creates engaged and productive lawyers. The sooner new attorneys begin a mentoring relationship, the greater the chances for improved cooperation and efficiency organization-wide.

As a new lawyer, connect with an experienced practitioner (or a few) as soon as you can. Your enthusiasm and willingness to learn will be noticed. 

2. Diversification
When I’m asked if it’s better to match mentoring pairs with similar or opposing personality types, my answer is, “Yes.” The value of expanding your social capital and ability to work with all types of people cannot be emphasized enough.

Most clients won’t likely share your style, mannerisms, or approach to problem solving. Aligning yourself with a variety of mentors will enhance your skillset, and help you understand dissenting viewpoints. Clients will value a well-rounded approach of addressing problems with creative and often more cost-effective solutions.

3. Improved Communication
We all bring unique perceptions, perspectives, and ideals to our workplace. These varied points of view add immeasurable value, enabling organizations and lawyers to adapt and succeed in a diversifying industry.

Most of our principles are built on individual experiences spanning from our developmental years to our professional life. However, as a lawyer we must be able to communicate with colleagues and clients who have differing viewpoints. It isn’t always easy to interact with those who don’t share our beliefs, but firm culture may dismiss our struggles.

The mentoring relationship allows mentees to express their concerns and ideas with their mentors. Mentors can provide a supportive sounding board, and important perspective based on lived experiences.

When mutual collaboration of thought is respected by those in leadership roles, the communication channels of trust, respect, and commitment strengthen firm culture. Better communication begets better collaboration. Problems faced by clients and attorneys alike are solved more effectively and efficiently.

4. Mutual Benefits (Reverse Mentoring)
Mentoring is an innovation catalyst for everyone, not just the mentees. Strategies and techniques that have served a senior law partner for 40 years may be outdated in today’s practice. This is where you, the new lawyer, provide unique value to your mentor and the organization as a whole.

Mentors routinely report gaining as much, if not more, out of the relationship than their mentees. New lawyers offer fresh ideas and perspectives that might have otherwise gone unexplored. This reciprocal benefit often solidifies a strong professional and personal relationship moving forward.

So, be sure to always include your point of view in conversations, such as exploring a novel process to a traditional task. Soon your contributions will be measured well beyond your timesheets or drafted memos.

Find A Mentor, Trust A Mentor
The Supreme Court of Illinois recognizes that skilled and experienced mentors can help new lawyers’ transition from law students to members of the bar. To assist with this transition, the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism has partnered with law firms, law schools, bar associations, and other organizations throughout Illinois to administer a statewide mentoring program.

Beyond professional development, the Commission’s mentoring program satisfies the new lawyers’ basic skills requirement and provides six hours of professional responsibility CLE at no cost (for mentees or mentors). Furthermore, program completion satisfies the amended Rule 794 requirement for attorneys to take one hour of diversity and inclusion CLE and one hour of mental health and substance abuse CLE as part of their six-hour professional responsibility requirement.

The year-long program traces the five tenants of professional responsibility – professionalism, ethics, civility, diversity and inclusion, and mental health and substance abuse. All licensed Illinois attorneys in their first five years of admission are eligible to participate as a mentee.

If you’re in the first years of your practice, consider pairing up with a mentor from the Supreme Court’s Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring Program.