As a long-time mentor, I have had the privilege of mentoring hundreds of mentees. Some of these mentor relationships lasted only for a single 30-minute “pick-your-brain” session, while others have been as needed over the trajectory of the lawyers’ careers. Upon reflection, I’d be lying if I didn’t have a few mentoring relationships that rise above others.
Ways to Create a More Meaningful Relationship with Your Mentor
If you’re a young lawyer and want to have a meaningful relationship with your mentor, here are a few tips on how to be a great mentee.
1. Take a People-First Approach
A mentoring relationship is like any other relationship, where no one likes to feel like a transaction, even if it is expected that a mentee has something to “gain” from a mentor. It’s important to remember that relationships are give-and-take and a back-and-forth — not a perpetual visit to a Magic 8 ball or a gumball machine.
An easy way to take a people-first approach is to start with a “get-to-know” each other session.
Ask your mentor about their journey, from how they decided on the law, their practice area, to where they are now. As you listen, jot down follow-up questions to ask — anything that interests you — whether how they decided to take a specific opportunity, what they found most challenging or rewarding, or noting commonalities or shared interests. Be sure to take note of unique things you learn about your mentor and what is important to them — such as whether they have children, enjoy special hobbies or what non-profit boards or community work they’re interested in.
If time permits, or if the mentor asks (which they usually will), be ready to share about yourself. Tell your journey, your goals and motivations — what you’re interests are and why you reached out to the mentor specifically. This is the part where you share so that the mentor can learn how to help you.
A key part to the people-first approach is the follow-up.
If your mentor provides you some advice and you use it, let them know how it turns out. If they helped connect you to someone or help prepare you for an interview, let them know how it went. Everyone wants to know how the “story” ends — and everyone wants to know that their time wasn’t wasted.
Because it is a relationship, try to be helpful where you can. Whether that is with a restaurant recommendation for your foodie-mentor, a “like” or comment on their LinkedIn post, or sending them an article about marathon training because they have one planned, there are small ways you can help your mentor and further your relationship.
And if you don’t know how you can help, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Finally, random texts or emails, or updates without asks are appreciated.
That’s how authentic relationships are, right? It’s nice to be thought of, and it’s a way that you can be top of mind while making clear to your mentor that you are not expecting anything in return. And genuine gratitude is everything.
2. Know Your Ask
People who agree to be mentors genuinely want to help — so be clear with your ask. Don’t make them guess.
- Do you have a specific situation where you are looking for someone with more experience to bounce your ideas off of?
- Are you looking for some coaching on a specific skill like networking or oral advocacy?
- Perhaps there is a connection you are hoping your mentor could help you make?
Whatever it is, be clear.
Doing your homework will not only make the meeting as productive as possible, but it also shows your mentor that you are willing to put in the work and are invested in the relationship. This may encourage your mentor to invest more in you in the future. Even better? Share your ask or the agenda in a pre-meeting email or calendar invite so your mentor can be prepared.
Be mindful of your ask, too.
Make sure that it considers the strength of your relationship and isn’t too much of an imposition. An analogy might be asking yourself if you’ve made sufficient deposits in the relationship “bank” before making withdrawals. For example, asking a long-time mentor for some guidance on preparing for an interview is most likely fine. On the other hand, asking someone you’ve asked for advice from once if they would vouch for you because you just applied at their firm or company may be too much.
3. Make It as Easy as Possible
Mentors are busy. While they are willing to help, stand out by doing your best to make it easy for them.
Find out their preferred method of communication and scheduling.
Is it through an administrative assistant? Do they prefer using Doodle or Calendly? Do they have young children and prefer calls after the kids go to bed?
Take responsibility for all meeting logistics.
When proposing times for a meeting, include time-zone and follow up with a calendar invite with your number or a zoom link. As noted above, share your ask. It is up to you to create the agenda and drive the conversation.
Importantly, if your question or ask is time-sensitive, let them know.
For example, “My interview is this Friday so if we can talk before then, I’d really appreciate it.” That way your mentor can prioritize or let you know quickly if their schedule does not permit a meeting.
Similarly, if you’d like help with reviewing your resume, a cover letter or other document, consider sending in word or Google docs instead of a PDF so they can suggest changes more easily.
With these tips well-practiced and executed, you can be a great mentee and hopefully, have meaningful mentoring relationships for years to come.
FOR LAWYERS AND LAW STUDENTS
This quick-read, how-to book explains how 60-minute mentoring works — ideas, instructions, and inspiration. Includes sample questions for both mentees and mentors, plus a special section on how to set up a program in your firm or bar association.
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