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Finding a Mentor: Tool for Success

I believe that finding mentors is critical for an inexperienced lawyer’s long term success as an attorney and businessperson whether they are starting a solo practice or working for a firm. A lawyer may need multiple mentors because of the many demands of creating a successful practice today. Not only must a lawyer learn how to practice the law – which as one of my professors said long ago “is more an art than a science”, but you also must learn the business of practicing law. While most law students know how to research well, they do not know how to file a complaint, answer interrogatories, serve a subpoena in a foreign jurisdiction, run a conflict check, etc. Although most attorneys can slowly learn and understand the “practice and procedure” that governs how attorneys practice in Massachusetts, an experienced mentor can and will provide advice which will not only save time, but often will prevent unnecessary and costly mistakes.

Equally new to many attorneys is the operation of the law office, or the business of practicing law. In fact, as we all know, most attorneys have no training in business practices. I am constantly being asked questions about the most basic issues related to opening and operating a law office. I am very sympathetic to these questions because they are the same questions I asked years ago. Attorneys approach me about issues arising from office sharing, running a home office, whether to operate as a corporation, L.L.C., L.L.P., or sole proprietor, and what kind of software and hardware they should purchase. New attorneys need to know how to open an IOLTA account and keep it reconciled. These same attorneys are looking for good forms to insure smooth operations: forms for conflict checking, client interviews, fee agreements, non-engagement letters, and disengagement letters. The list of questions is endless and, in this case, truly none of the questions are dumb.

The question is how to find mentors that are helpful and will provide timely meaningful advice. First, for business operational matters the Massachusetts attorney can always contact Mass. LOMAP and we will be happy to help. However, many other excellent resources exist. Several bar associations in Massachusetts have mentoring programs. The Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts (“WBA”) has a well regarding mentoring program which is described as a “mentoring circle”. Each circle consists of 10 to 15 women of varying levels of experience. The Massachusetts Bar Association (“MBA”) also has started a mentoring program. This program focuses on pairing new lawyers one-on-one with experienced lawyers (seven or more years) who are willing to consult on areas of the substantive law that comprise 50 percent or more of their practice. The Boston Bar Association (“BBA”) has just announced its free group mentoring program which is “specifically designed for a diverse group of practicing lawyers less than eight years out of law school.” The application for the program may be found online. I had trouble finding the mentoring programs on both the MBA and BBA web-sites, but I am sure that if you telephone, both organizations will be helpful.

There are a number of less formal avenues to receive valuable mentoring from an array of attorneys and consultants that practice around the country. For example, the American Bar Associations’ SoloSez email discussion list provides an excellent forum for finding out what solo and small firms from around the country are saying about the same marketing, finance, and law office management issues facing you. Anyone can join and participate so long as you follow a few simple rules. Recent popular discussion threads included whether to use Vonage for telephone service, Wills and Trusts Software Packages, IOLTA Credit Cards, and Bar Preparation. The active list serve participants are happy to give advice. The list can be a little overwhelming; therefore I recommend setting up a separate Gmail account for use with the SoloSez list serve. A local resource for networking and discussion about Massachusetts substantive law is the MA-sezers. A growing group of attorneys, consultants, and legal technologist are on Twitter (twitter.com), LinkedIn, facebook, and legal sites such as Legal OnRamp. In addition, there are numerous local attorney networking groups in Massachusetts such as Business Lawyers Network – Newton and Boston and the Women Attorneys Network of the South Shore to name a couple. If you cannot find a networking group that works for you, then create your own mentoring network. Finally, the best mentor may be the attorney down the hall, on the next floor, or that lives next door.

Finding mentors is about developing long term relationships with other attorneys. Those relationships not only lead to mentors, but also referrals, and, friendships. You have nothing to lose and much to gain from developing good relationships with your colleagues and fellow professionals.