Taking Charge of Your Mentoring Experience | BCGSearch.com

Taking Charge of Your Mentoring Experience


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Mentoring relationships are as old as the legal profession itself. In the earliest days of legal practice, mentoring and apprenticeship were the only way lawyers could learn their craft. Although legal training is more formalized today, mentoring remains a key component of attorney professional development. This is because mentoring was, and continues to be, one of the most effective ways to pass on skills, knowledge, and cultivate critical professional relationships.
Taking Charge of Your Mentoring Experience

Attorneys at all levels can reap benefits from the guidance and instruction of a good mentor. In addition to providing necessary instruction and development of legal skills, a mentor can help associates navigate the often tricky internal politics of a law firm, become a much needed ally and advocate, and help expand the associate’s professional network both inside and outside the firm. Associates over the years have reported mixed experiences with law firms’ efforts to provide formal, structured mentoring programs. For some, the mentoring relationship is a vital piece in the associate’s development. In these instances, the mentor’s guidance and shared expertise becomes an important part of the associate’s skill and relationship building and fosters a sense of loyalty to both the mentor and the firm. For others, the relationship feels like a perfunctory, “box checked” experience offered by the firm to satisfy internal and external demands and perceptions, but ends up being a program which has little if any meaning or effectiveness.

It has been my experience that structured mentoring programs often struggle (or fail) because associates are matched with partners either randomly or based on practice area. There is usually little effort to ensure compatibility in terms of a shared background or common interests. As many partners and associates will attest, a meaningful connection is really at the heart of the most effective mentor-mentee relationships. And although it may seem counterintuitive, it is not necessary for a mentor to share the same practice area as the mentee. In fact, this arrangement is sometimes preferable to both parties because the associate has the option of being more open and honest about matters pertaining to skill development, firm structure and politics, and the associate’s true career aspirations.

Mentoring relationships can also falter if associates sit back passively and wait for the partner to take the lead. As with most things in life, if you want a successful mentoring relationship, you have to take control of the situation and assume responsibility for keeping it going. Much of what you get out of your mentoring experience depends on your willingness to be proactive and to ask for what you need. This begins with finding the right mentor. If your assigned mentor is clearly not a good fit, ask to be reassigned to someone with whom you think you might be more compatible. If that is not possible, an informal (i.e. unassigned) relationship with a superior in the firm with whom you feel a connection or would like to get to know better can serve the same purpose.

Once the relationship has been established, assume that it is up to you to keep the relationship moving forward. You may wish to create a list of objectives to be clear about what you would like to achieve from your interactions with your mentor. Clearly outlined objectives can provide structure to your meetings and serve as a useful guide with which to measure your progress. You may wish to consider the following when creating your goals:
  • What exactly do I want from this relationship? Skill building? Networking opportunities? Career guidance?
  • What specific opportunities can this particular relationship provide me?
  • What do I hope will be different for me as a result of this experience?
  • How will I measure success as the relationship progresses?
Keep in mind as you move forward in the mentoring relationship that the focus of your meetings should be on the successful achievement of your goals. It is important that you continue to play an active role in the relationship by assuming responsibility, staying organized, and keeping the momentum going. It is also critical that you demonstrate respect for your mentor’s time. Keep the following pointers in mind when meeting with your mentor:
  • Take responsibility for initiating meetings.
  • Know in advance what you wish to discuss at each meeting. Prepare an agenda, either mentally or literally.
  • Balance your comments with positive experiences and challenges you are experiencing. Come to meetings ready to share experiences that moved you closer to achieving your goals as well as experiences that set you back.
  • Solicit feedback from your mentor on what he or she is observing in you.
  • With your mentor’s guidance, assess your progress, identify setbacks, and determine next steps.
Remember that in addition to a meaningful connection, the success of any mentoring program depends on the mentees’ willingness to be actively involved in their own success. If the relationship is not helping you to meet your objectives, it is important to speak up so the appropriate adjustments can be made.

About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.

With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.

Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.

Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.

One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.

One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.

Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.

In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.

Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.

In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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