Lawyers are invited to sign up for the next round of mentorship from the first statewide mentorship program created by the Massachusetts SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being.
Networking and training are key to career success in any field, and the legal profession lacks a standard, unified training mechanism — which makes it critical for individual lawyers to seek out their own mentors. For years, statewide and local bar associations in Massachusetts have provided mentoring programs, but there hadn’t been centralized resources — until recent work from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being. Working Group Members included: Christina M. Turgeon, Law Office of Christina M. Turgeon; Gabriel Cheong, Affinity Law Group; Michael Ready, Ready, Kieran & McNally; Wm. Travaun Bailey, Law Office of William Travaun Bailey; Arlene Bernstein, Esq. (ret.); Kate Dulit, Massachusetts Trial Court; Michelle N. O’Brien, Pierce Atwood; Robert Harris, Hinckley Allen; Xena Robinson, Liberty Mutual Insurance.
NEW MASSACHUSETTS LAWYER MENTOR PROGRAM
Just last year, the Mass SJC Lawyer Well-Being Committee launched the first statewide mentorship program. It’s designed to help introduce new lawyers to practice, but all lawyers in the state can sign up as mentees regardless of how long you’ve been in practice. Mentors are required to have 10 years experience. The program is entirely free. This program is aimed to help new lawyers, lawyers in transition, and other lawyers that seek mentorship for whatever reason. The goals are to help introduce lawyers to practice in Massachusetts, help them gain courage and confidence, help make connections and build networks, recognize and work through problems when they arise, and gain helpful tips and tools from other experienced practitioners.
Rather than assigning pairs, this program allows mentees to book from available slots provided by mentors. Mentors are asked to provide 6 sessions throughout the program, and mentees can book apparently unlimited sessions with any mentors, first come first served. A digital platform allows mentees to browse mentors’ profiles and schedules, book their sessions, and view existing bookings. In this model, a mentor’s time commitment is light. Mentors (with 10 or more years of experience) need only complete an online profile and insert placeholder dates for meetings with mentees (which can always be revised later to accommodate a mentor’s changing schedule). Mentees may select and meet with multiple mentors, providing them with a variety of contacts and perspectives. Mentees browse an online listing of mentors and choose sessions with whichever mentors they are interested in meeting. The self-match system allows mentees to seek guidance and insight relevant to their own career development with a variety of mentors in different work settings and different perspectives.
More information, including FAQs for mentors and mentees and registration, is available here. The next round begins in April 2022, so sign up now. The program will run through December 2022, and mentees can join at any time.
An updated listing of legal mentorship programs throughout Massachusetts, run by various state, local, affinity, and practice area-specific bar associations is available here from the Mass SJC Lawyer Well-Being Committee. The listing includes both regular and infrequent programs.
Guidance on Developing Relationships with Mentors
Tips for building a relationship with your new mentors are offered in a recent ABA Law Practice Today article by Sofia Lingos, of Boston-based Trident Legal. Key pieces of her practical wisdom include the following suggestions to be intentional about your goals, to really listen, act on good advice, and communicate gratitude and results:
Make the most of the time you have. Don’t waste it asking questions that you don’t really care about because you think you should. Be genuine. It is easy to get excited and monopolize the conversation trying to express your needs. Less is more. Ask considerate and strategic questions appropriate for this particular person. Why did you choose them? What was it about them that you wanted to know or learn? Identify a specific goal and after you’ve made your request, step back and listen. Listen for the purpose of really hearing what your mentor has to say instead of planning what you’re going to say next. You are not preparing for cross-examination.
Maintain a relationship with mentors, even if their expertise is not required at the moment.
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If it is good advice, follow it, and if you have positive results, let them know. Gratitude is the basic compensation for someone to give you their time and advice, and being able to assist you in achieving measurable results is certainly a bonus. This does not mean you need to spend hundreds of dollars on a gift basket, but a sincere and timely note of thanks goes a long way, especially if its handwritten.
With similar ideas, Janet Phan outlines three steps for working with a mentor in a recent HBR article, below. And you can find more on her elements to a thriving mentor relationship in her 2020 TEDx Talk.
- Ask for that first meeting. Mentorship programs take the pressure off, but when you find a great potential mentor who doesn’t happen to be in a database or program, it can be hard to ask. “To take some pressure off of yourself and ease the fear, remind yourself that the people you admire have likely had various mentors throughout their lives who have helped them to get to where they are today, and would jump at the opportunity to help others in the same way. If you want to connect with them, start with a simple ask: a quick 15 to 30 minute virtual coffee break. The best way to reach out is usually sending a short email. Share one or two things you admire about their work, then tell them a little about yourself, why you’re reaching out, what you would like to learn from them, and wrap it up with your ask.”
- Nurture the relationship. Truly connecting takes time, so be patient. Get to know your mentor and send meaningful thank you notes after each meeting. Janet covers best practices for the timeline and more in her article, highlighting in particular the need to communicate what you’ve learned in your meeting and what actions you’ve taken as a result.
- Maintain the relationship. Keep them updated; Offer to help; Express gratitude. “Remember that first follow up email you sent? Make that a regular thing. Use the time between your catchups to take action on the goals you set with your mentor. Send them updates (a simple text or an email) telling them how their guidance is playing an important role in your career and personal development. But be sure not to spam them. About once every month or two is good during the first year, and as time progresses and you’ve established a good mentoring relationship, pinging your mentor even once a quarter is okay.”
Leadership & Inclusion
The importance mentoring and sponsoring attorneys of color was highlighted by Paulette Brown and Eileen Letts, two authors of the 2020 ABA study, Left Out and Left Behind: The Hurdles, Hassles, and Heartaches of Achieving Long-Term Legal Careers for Women of Color, in a 2020 BBA panel, discussed in this post. The Massachusetts SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being documented the work ahead needed in the Massachusetts legal profession in its Town Hall Report, and has also created a database for DEI resources for the Massachusetts legal profession to help individuals and entities alike take action.
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