Most successful (and honest) attorneys will tell you that they are not self-made. They will tell you that they had people who invested in them and supported them along their law school journey. This is the power of mentorship. Legal mentors are important because they are a source of inspiration, hope, and wisdom. They can challenge you and hold you accountable. Most of all, they completely understand what it’s like to be in your shoes.
The problem is mentors don’t merely drop out of the sky. And sometimes, the mentors you receive through formal mentorship programs are hit or miss. Don’t be discouraged! There are many avenues for you to find someone that you connect with and who is willing to invest their time in your journey.
1. Make a List of Any Interests, Passions, Goals, and, if Possible, What you would like to do with your Law Degree
This list doesn’t have to be exhaustive nor do the items have to be related to each other. You do need to have a sense of what you think you’d like to do with your law degree.
Even if you don’t know what type of law you want to practice or the type of attorney you’d like to be, you’re still in a great position to learn.
This list is important because knowing what you don’t want to do is just as helpful as knowing what you do want to do. And if you don’t know what you want to do, then you can organically build this list through your experiences with various people and opportunities.
2. Identify your Needs
Do you need a mentor that you have face-to-face contact with? Or are you indifferent to never meeting your mentor in person, and, instead, chatting virtually?
Do you want a mentor who has had a steady career path with a wealth of experience in a specific area? Or do you want a mentor who has worked in different sectors, industries, or maybe decided to stop officially practicing law to teach?
Do you want a mentor that you can relate to on a cultural and socioeconomic level? How about a mentor that is close in age to you? These are some considerations you should make in understanding your needs. If you’re going to be the first lawyer in your family, it may be more beneficial to seek out a mentor who is also the first attorney in their family.
It’s also important to note that it’s okay to have more than one mentor. In fact, you probably will have several mentors over the course of your career.
3. Start locally
Sometimes we envision mentors to be older men and women who are unreachable, big-shot attorneys. This doesn’t have to be the case. Start with your school. Reach out to your CDO counselors, attorneys, and any upperclassmen you know. Inform them of your interests and needs and ask if they have anyone in mind that may potentially be a good mentor for you.
Contrary to popular belief, your network of classmates, faculty, and staff is your first legal network. Take advantage of it.
Once you learn more about local people in your legal community who do work that you may be interested in, you can find keywords about their work and career that will help you find more people outside your immediate network.
I also encourage you to attend local bar association events or young lawyers’ events. Those are usually free for law students, and it’s a great way to network and gain exposure to your areas of interest.
4. Use the Internet
If you don’t already have a LinkedIn account, I highly encourage that you make one. Not only does it help you establish an online presence, but you can use it strategically to network, obtain job opportunities, and build a brand.
If you’re interested in practicing in another geographic location, internet searches come in handy. You can find leaders, practitioners, and change agents in the city you’d like to move to.
This step may be a bit challenging. Don’t be afraid of rejection. The American Bar Association released survey data showing that there are over one million licensed, active attorneys in the US. So, if you don’t receive a response or if someone politely declines—don’t take it personally.
In this modern age of connection and technology, there are thousands of attorneys out there who would love the opportunity to impart their wisdom on you. It’s better that someone declines being your mentor because they don’t have the time, than someone agreeing to mentor you but is never able to stay in touch.
All it takes is one yes from someone who truly cares and understands your story.
Finding and obtaining mentors is a life-long process that will look different in various stages of your career, but the principles remain the same. Identify your interests, your needs, and start with who you know. Then branch out and reach out.
The most important thing about mentorship is that you too pay it forward. If you’re a law student, mentor 1Ls or undergraduate students about getting into law school. Once you become a practicing attorney, keep giving back by making yourself available to people who aspire to be in your shoes.
This is how change happens, and it starts with you. Good luck!
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