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Victoria Santoro
Victoria Santoro
Attorney • (617) 523-8300

Finding and Becoming a Mentor in the Legal Profession

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Editor's note: This post originally appeared at Tori Santoro's blog, The Limber Lawyer, and is being reposted with permission.

One of the many ways I have hit the professional jackpot is that I work with people who enjoy mentoring the next generation of lawyers. Not only do I have a male and female mentor, but I get to interact and work with them on an almost daily basis. I have a front row seat to their management styles, the way they deal with personal issues, and their tips and tricks in practicing law. Much has already been written on finding a mentor. But I think much can also be said for letting your mentors find you. Particularly in law, which is a competitive and sometimes cutthroat field, young attorneys are loathe to show weakness, inexperience or straight up youthful ignorance. For more seasoned lawyers, this attitude forces them to see you as simply a fellow lawyer, and much less as a potential mentee. So, here are my 3 top mentor-related tips:

Show Your Cards

There is something quite charming and unexpected in someone who is both quite eager to learn and completely honest about their current level of ability. It is disarming. It allows people to trust you. And it allows people to know you. We all suffer from insecurity and self-doubt, even the most experienced and successful lawyers, so why not use that as a means of connecting? More often, people use it as a means of antagonizing competitors and intimidating younger attorneys. Now, I’m not suggesting you walk into a courtroom or a boardroom and announce how little you know about the topic at issue. But, in personal conversations with people you know and respect, it would behoove you to show a little humility and honesty and, yes, even some insecurity.

It is incredible to me how many willing mentors exist in a small ecosystem like the Boston legal world. Imagine, then, how many eager mentors exist in the state, or country. As with all relationships, it may be tough to find a good fit, someone you look up to and can at the same time feel comfortable with. But, I assure you, these people exist.

It’s not necessarily natural to open up this way with your more experienced professional peers. But I can guarantee it will result in a more meaningful, more honest and far more helpful mentorship experience. There is nothing as valuable as a trusted advisor, full of hints and surefire methods. And you do necessarily want access to these hints and methods at your most vulnerable moments, when your back is against the wall and you can’t see a great way out of your situation. Being able to both share honestly about a particular difficulty and, moreover, get advice on how to massage the situation, is worth it’s weight in gold.

Find A Champion

By the same token, a mentor should be your champion. Here also I stumbled into this type of incredibly supportive mentor relationship. Anyone who is interested in mentoring a younger person, is also likely invested in the future of the profession. Calling you out for your achievements and accomplishments is part of accomplishing this goal, and setting up the next generation for success. So, while the best mentors let you be your imperfect self, they’ll shout your perfections from the rooftops.

More and more, I think professional success boils down to relationships. Relationships with clients, referrers, competitors, bar associations. It’s all the same thing. Lest you think it’s just like high school, this type of popularity contest comes down to ability. (Maybe it’s a little like high school.) The best and quickest way to have your talents known is certainly not by bragging, but by having a respected person in your field bestow their respect upon you. Trickle down respect. Keep on picking up and trying on new mentors until you find the one who truly champions your career and brings you into their fold.

Pay It Forward

Just as important as doing these things to find a mentor, I also think you need to find a mentee. Even a few years into your chosen field, you have a lot to share. More than you think! I met with a BC Law 2L and was amazed at all the advice I couldn’t stop spewing. Show your appreciation for those who have helped you get ahead by taking on the responsibility for the next crop of go-getters. No one will be more appreciative of your efforts.