“A mentor talks with you, whereas a sponsor talks about you.”* When a senior-level lawyer advocates for you – that is sponsorship. It is different from mentor who can provide a sounding board, offer advice or be a support. Sponsors use their influence to take action on your career advancement and champion you to others. A sponsor puts some of their own “skin-in-the-game” for you.
What do sponsors actually do?
The legal profession is one where we hone our skills through apprenticeship. We develop our career through connections. Sponsors provide opportunities for junior associates to shine. For example, we bring them in on large files. We introduce them to key clients. Sponsors draw attention to junior associates’ successes. They help them to develop key relationships with other lawyers, clients or leaders. Sponsors connect junior associates to career advancement opportunities. For example, they can make presentations or serve in leadership positions. Sponsors provide overall career advice, as do mentors. A sponsor is also a strategic advisor who can open the eyes of a junior associate to the possibilities open to them.
Who can be a sponsor?
Not everyone can be a sponsor. Sponsors are typically senior members of the bar, or a subset of it. They have the respect and recognition of their peers and the broader legal community. They have to be willing to invest in the junior associate. They have to understand their role as a sponsor. And they have to be able to look at a junior associate and see the potential for growth.
Why would I want a sponsor?
Because a sponsor can affect your whole career trajectory.
*Michael Bach of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion