Law Practice

Law Firm Mentor: Friend or Foe?

To a starry-eyed new associate or young partner, a law firm mentor can be one of the big benefits of starting out in practice with far more seasoned colleagues.

However, not every mentor is an associate’s friend. And, from the mentor’s standpoint, too, having an associate as a protege may require the senior lawyer to watch his or her back, points out Texas Lawyer (sub. req.) in a column reprinted by New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

Author James Dolan, a coach and psychotherapist, recounts the experience of a 32-year-old new partner, who had expected his mentor to trumpet the fact that he had brought a client in to the firm. Instead, he was stunned to discover that the partner had claimed credit himself for the acquisition. A seasoned mentor that Dolan knows, by contrast, was amazed to overhear her current mentee questioning her competence, in a hallway conversation.

For associates seeking a mentee, Dolan advises doing so with one’s eyes open:

“There must be a good match between protege and mentor, so if a new lawyer finds himself in conversations with a potential mentor about matters pertaining to interests other than law practice, there is the possibility of developing the relationship from there,” he writes. “Does the potential mentor have a reasonably long track record of relative success? Is he clear about his own failures and shortcomings? Does he appear judgmental, or is he clear about mistakes and their consequences without personalizing them?”

On the other side of the equation, a mentor needs to remember that a mentee will grow up professionally and leave the nest, he continues. “If the protege breaks away, the mentor has succeeded and helped guide a unique lawyer into the field.”

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