A new database and new program organized by the Massachusetts Lawyer Well-Being Committee will help lawyers across the state find mentorship in the legal profession.
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Networking is key to career success in any field, and the legal profession lacks a standard, unified training mechanism — which makes it critical for individual lawyers to seek out their own mentors. For years, statewide and local bar associations in Massachusetts have provided mentoring programs, but there hadn’t been centralized resources — until recent work from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being.
The Committee developed a new Statewide Mentorship Database and a Statewide New Lawyer Mentorship Program have been developed following the recommendation of their Mentorship Working Group. Both programs, along with pilot programs and additional resources are available here on the Lawyer Well-Being Committee’s website. Working Group Members included: Christina M. Turgeon, Law Office of Christina M. Turgeon; Gabriel Cheong, Affinity Law Group; Michael Ready, Ready, Kieran & McNally; Wm. Travaun Bailey, Law Office of William Travaun Bailey; Arlene Bernstein, Esq. (ret.); Kate Dulit, Massachusetts Trial Court; Michelle N. O’Brien, Pierce Atwood; Robert Harris, Hinckley Allen; Xena Robinson, Liberty Mutual Insurance.
Guidance on Developing Relationships with Mentors
Tips for building a relationship with your new mentors are offered in a recent ABA Law Practice Today article by Sofia Lingos, of Boston-based Trident Legal. Key pieces of her practical wisdom include the following suggestions to be intentional about your goals, to really listen, act on good advice, and communicate gratitude and results:
Make the most of the time you have. Don’t waste it asking questions that you don’t really care about because you think you should. Be genuine. It is easy to get excited and monopolize the conversation trying to express your needs. Less is more. Ask considerate and strategic questions appropriate for this particular person. Why did you choose them? What was it about them that you wanted to know or learn? Identify a specific goal and after you’ve made your request, step back and listen. Listen for the purpose of really hearing what your mentor has to say instead of planning what you’re going to say next. You are not preparing for cross-examination.
Maintain a relationship with mentors, even if their expertise is not required at the moment.
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If it is good advice, follow it, and if you have positive results, let them know. Gratitude is the basic compensation for someone to give you their time and advice, and being able to assist you in achieving measurable results is certainly a bonus. This does not mean you need to spend hundreds of dollars on a gift basket, but a sincere and timely note of thanks goes a long way, especially if its handwritten.
With similar ideas, Janet Phan outlines three steps for working with a mentor in a recent HBR article, below. And you can find more on her elements to a thriving mentor relationship in her 2020 TEDx Talk.
- Ask for that first meeting. Particularly when you find a great potential mentor who doesn’t happen to be in a database or program, it can be hard to ask. “To take some pressure off of yourself and ease the fear, remind yourself that the people you admire have likely had various mentors throughout their lives who have helped them to get to where they are today, and would jump at the opportunity to help others in the same way. If you want to connect with them, start with a simple ask: a quick 15 to 30 minute virtual coffee break. The best way to reach out is usually sending a short email. Share one or two things you admire about their work, then tell them a little about yourself, why you’re reaching out, what you would like to learn from them, and wrap it up with your ask.”
- Nurture the relationship. Truly connecting takes time, so be patient. Get to know them and send meaningful thank you notes after each meeting. Janet covers best practices for the timeline and more in her article, highlighting in particular the need to communicate what you’ve learned in your meeting and what actions you’ve taken as a result.
- Maintain the relationship. Keep them updated; Offer to help; Express gratitude. “Remember that first follow up email you sent? Make that a regular thing. Use the time between your catchups to take action on the goals you set with your mentor. Send them updates (a simple text or an email) telling them how their guidance is playing an important role in your career and personal development. But be sure not to spam them. About once every month or two is good during the first year, and as time progresses and you’ve established a good mentoring relationship, pinging your mentor even once a quarter is okay.”
Leadership & Inclusion
The importance mentoring and sponsoring attorneys of color was highlighted by Paulette Brown and Eileen Letts, two authors of the 2020 ABA study, Left Out and Left Behind: The Hurdles, Hassles, and Heartaches of Achieving Long-Term Legal Careers for Women of Color, in a 2020 BBA panel, discussed in this post. The Massachusetts SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being documented the work ahead needed in the Massachusetts legal profession in its Town Hall Report, and has also created a database for DEI resources for the Massachusetts legal profession to help individuals and entities alike take action.
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