Are junior lawyers entitled to be mentored? The flip-side of a right is an obligation. If someone is entitled to be mentored, then someone must have an obligation to serve as the mentor. Put that way, there is neither the right nor the obligation. Let’s put the proposition another way. Should junior lawyers be mentored? Would senior lawyers benefit from serving as mentors? In both cases, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Cui bono? (Who profits?)Here is how junior lawyers gain. First, they gain intangibly. They can discuss subjects that are too sensitive to raise with anyone else. They can rely upon the discretion of their mentors as well as the sincerity of the advice dispensed. They gain confidence in the quality of their decision-making. Second, they gain professionally. They learn to make decisions that impact their relationships with clients, colleagues, other professionals and the public. They gain access to a professional network that can include opportunities and referrals both to the junior lawyers and to other members of the professional network. They develop professionalism.
Here is how the mentors gain. Pardon me while I repeat myself. First, they gain intangibly. It is very satisfying to receive the trust and faith of junior colleagues. It is also wonderful to watch them develop their skills and grow to reach their potential. Second, they gain professionally. Junior lawyers often bring both enthusiasm and modern views or skills to a relationship. Equally often, senior lawyers tend to lag in both departments. They may be at the cutting edge with respect to the narrow area of their unique expertise, but there is so much more that they don’t know, have not experienced or have forgotten. Senior lawyers need junior colleagues to take up the extra work spun off by a successful practice. They need younger talent to replace them as they expand their practices and, eventually, as they retire. Speaking from personal experience, senior lawyers need mentors themselves. Their junior colleagues can develop quickly to become just such mentors.
It is no surprise that a successful mentoring relationship is a win-win proposition. Is it a right? Not necessarily. Is it mutually beneficial? Absolutely.
A trial lawyer since 1978, I have extensive experience in the art of asking questions, both in and out of the courtroom. I use my expertise to teach lawyers how to ask questions effectively to build rapport in interview situations. I also help politicians develop the skills necessary to adeptly handle questions from debate opponents, from the press and from the public. I am the author of a series of handbooks on the subject of interview skills for professionals.