Cordell Parvin Blog Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Mentoring: What You Can Learn From an Enthusiastic Mentee

Posted in Career Development

Yesterday, I posted: Mentoring: Follow This Mentor’s Example, sharing mentoring ideas from Bennett Jones Calgary partner Greg Liakopoulos.

A successful mentoring relationship in any law firm requires both a mentor, like Greg, who values helping associates succeed, and an associate mentee who is eager to learn and become a better lawyer.  Christie Conway is one of those eager associates. I asked Christie to share her thoughts on how the mentoring relationship is working.

I think Greg’s post hits the important points of what makes our mentoring relationship thrive.

From the Mentee’s perspective, I would only add the following:

  1. Making time. I think the success of any inter-personal relationship comes down to the level of effort both parties are willing to put into it and mentoring is no exception. While it helps that Greg and I genuinely enjoy each other’s company and get along well, we also make mentoring an priority.   For Greg, that has meant involving me on files and maintaining an open door policy for any and all questions (and as a junior I have a few…). He also stops by my office to ask how I’m doing, or if I want to grab a coffee. Those little visits don’t take up much of our time, but are a big part of how we maintain communication and ultimately build trust. For me, being active about making time to cultivate our mentoring relationship means supporting Greg with his non-billable projects and business development opportunities as well as his billable matters, and not allowing myself to become complacent about acknowledging and thanking Greg for the time he takes to mentor me.
  2. Building Trust. The mentoring relationship Greg and I have would not work without trust. We built that trust by being candid with each other, sharing our success, owning our failures and respecting each another. However, one thing that Greg did as a mentor that helped build trust between us early on, was establish a policy that “a draft is a draft” and letting me know that the work I did for him was always going to be judged first on effort, not degrees of perfection. The emphasis was never just on whether I found the right answer, but how I got to the answer and what alternative answers might exist. Greg always made it clear that it was okay to make mistakes, so long as I learned from them. And while I appreciate that many lawyers of a certain vintage subscribe to a sink or swim mentality when it comes to student and junior associates, I think they often forget just how paralyzing it can be to be faced with an unfamiliar task and feel as though there is simply no room failure. For me, Greg’s policy ultimately offered a safe place to ask questions, seek advice, work through legal issues and learn about the law in a pressure and judgment-free environment, and I know I am a better lawyer today because of it.
  3. A team mentality. One of the things Greg touched on was the fact that we view ourselves as a team, and as a mentee I think this point is particularly important. As a junior, knowing that I have someone like Greg, who is not only a partner, but a leader in his field, invested in me and my success, is incredibly motivating. It makes me want to learn more, work harder and become better. Because I am accountable not only to myself but to the “team”, I hold myself to a higher standard. That said, what makes any team successful is the commitment of all of its members, and while Greg offered me the opportunity to be part of his team, he has never once made it feel like a gift. Rather, Greg has gone out of his way to prove his commitment to the our team time and again. For example, if Greg was congratulated tomorrow on a successful project that we’d both worked on by a client or another partner, I know he would acknowledge my contribution whether I was in the room or not, because he’s done it countless times before. That, to me, is integrity, and one of the many reasons I respect Greg as much as I do. We don’t pick and choose when it’s the most beneficial for us individually to acknowledge and celebrate the team and when it’s not. When we’re successful, we share that success, and when we’re facing challenges, we resolve them together.

I know many law firms that have formal mentoring programs. I know very few mentoring relationships that are working as well as this one. I was particularly struck by the point Christie made about a draft being a draft and how Greg focuses on how she got the answer and what other possible answers might be.

I hear senior lawyers complain that some associates are not digging deep enough and analyzing an issue.  I believe those associates might dig deeper and analyze if that was encouraged and discussed.

So, thank you to Greg and Christie for sharing how a mentoring relationship might work and benefit the mentor, the mentee and their firm.