16 Dec Tiff’s Top Tips for Young Lawyers
It’s the most wonderful time of year!
…The sweet sounds of Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé are wafting through the shopping centres, there’s a better chance that the sun is still shining when you leave the office, and in less than 2 weeks the world will wave a collective goodbye to 2021.
It’s also the perfect time to take stock of the past 12 months and reflect on all that you’ve learnt and achieved. For many of you, this past year would have thrown a number of work-related challenges at you, which were hopefully made easier with the guidance of someone more senior who has either traversed similar ground several years ago, or who provided some kind of practical support to help you make it through to the other side. If, as you’re reading this, a particular person (or multiple people) comes to mind, then you have likely just identified someone very valuable who may be the key to you having a long and successful career: a mentor.
To quote the great and mighty Oprah: “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself”. Not only that, but finding a good mentor early on can be the difference between burning out as a 2 year lawyer and having a meaningful 30 year career. Because apart from bestowing real-life lessons and skills upon their mentees, mentors can help map out career goals, define strategies and objectives to reach milestones, and recalibrate if anything goes awry.
If you already have a mentor, fantastic – don’t forget to take some time over the next few weeks to thank them because chances are they’ve also had a bumpy year, and so a little appreciation (in the form of a card, box of chocolates or bottle of wine) will undoubtedly go along way.
If however, you’re still searching for the Professor Dumbledore to your Harry Potter, or the Mushu to your Mulan, now is as good a time as any to find one! Problem is, good mentors won’t just miraculously appear in your life like Santa with his presents on Christmas Eve. Finding a good mentor is in many ways like dating; there needs to be a certain chemistry, and a healthy dose of respect and some give and take in order for the relationship to flourish. So as a junior lawyer you’ll likely need some patience, courage, and a good amount of trial and error to find that person who can be a true sounding board and help you navigate your career.
With that in mind, here are some important traits to keep in mind throughout your search for the right mentor:
Accessibility: First and foremost, a good mentor is an available one. The last thing you’d want is to have your time and effort wasted if a mentor is unable to commit to engaging with you on a regular basis. Of course, as lawyers they’re just as busy as anyone else, but if they do commit to you, then your time with them should be your time. Likewise, don’t betray their commitment with half-hearted effort. Have a goal for every one-on-one meeting and come prepared with an agenda, keeping your objectives top of mind and tracking to your shared plan.
Objectivity: In most cases, a proper mentor is not going to be your best friend, nor should they be. Real growth in any profession, especially as a junior lawyer, means receiving honest feedback and learning from things that you may not want to hear, but will be essential to your long-term development. A good mentor will challenge you as much as they help and encourage you along. As a mentee, be proactive about seeking objective feedback. This openness can help turn a challenge into an attainable goal.
Values: Without stating the obvious, a highly successful person isn’t always a person with strong core values. It’s important then that your mentor should be someone you admire and respect, not only for their accomplishments but for how they carry themselves and treat others. So on your quest to find the right mentor, remember to ask yourself these questions: what is their working and communication style? Do they demonstrate respect, honesty and kindness? Are they the kind of person you’d want to have in your corner if you were in a tough situation? If you intend to learn and grow from this relationship, it’s important that your mentor’s values align with your own.