Mentoring was a hot lawyer development topic prior to the 2008 recession. I was asked several times to help firms with mentoring programs. Now, I rarely see anything written about it.

Mentoring Visual


Yesterday I received this email from Natalie, with questions about mentoring:

Cordell, I recently thought about your article where a partner mentored you early in your career and how this partner met with you early in the morning to teach you about the practice of law. What advice do you offer to today’s young attorneys about forging similar relationships? How can a young attorney turn a grumpy old partner, who is only concerned about his billable hours, into a mentor?

Those are great questions. My first thought when reading them was:

Gosh, I hope none of the associates who worked for me thought of me as a grumpy old partner.

My second thought was that the older the partner, the more likely he or she will take time to listen and provide advice. The greater challenge is getting a grumpy young partner to take the time away from billable hours.

I am not sure a young attorney can ever turn a grumpy partner, who is only concerned about billable hours, into a mentor, but here are some thoughts I have.

  1. Try to find the right partner. People who are good mentors tend to be well known in the firm. They typically do not have their door closed all the time. So, look for open doors.
  2. Find the right time to spend time with the mentor. As explained above, I met with my first mentor (we never used that term) the first thing in the morning over coffee. I learned early on that he spent some time early getting ready for his day and he was open to meeting with me then. If I had walked into his office at 10:00 AM, he would have been very busy.
  3. The way to get a grumpy old partner to be a mentor is to ask good questions. Experienced lawyers generally like to tell younger lawyers about their experiences. I believe a young lawyer can learn about the firm and about the practical side of practicing law from those conversations. When I met with the partner who took me under his wing, I frequently began the discussion with: “Have you ever…?”