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Creating Meaningful Mentoring Relationships

by Joyce Brafford |

Listener; advisor; counselor.  These are the makings of a mentor. By following a few simple steps, you can create meaningful relationships with your mentees that result in better lawyers and great future mentors.                    

We’ve all seen the push from various bar associations to join mentoring programs. Like most of us, you probably wonder if you have time and the needed expertise. Wavering on either point will likely prevent you from registering as a mentor. I’m here to let you know that you don’t have to work part time or have an LLM to be a great mentor. What makes a great mentor is the ability to listen, give unbiased advice, and have compassion. These are the same skills you employ when you counsel your clients.

Listen.

Listening is harder than it seems. It’s not just sitting quietly while another person speaks. It’s taking in the information you receive, synthesizing new meaning, and creating deeper understanding. In the mentoring relationship, listening is incredibly important for both what you hear, and what you don’t hear.  For many mentors with generation Y or Millennial protégées, it has been difficult to create a relationship where real listening takes place. Part of the road block to great conversations is the reluctance on the part of the protégée to ask for help, admit a deficiency, or seek guidance.  This is a generational trait, but it can be overcome.

As a mentor, it’s just as important to celebrate the success of your protégée as it is to counsel him or her through tough times. If your mentee isn’t telling you about some struggles, ask yourself if the picture he or she is painting is realistic. As an attorney with a few years of practice under your belt, you remember how difficult those first cases were. You remember the confusion, feeling lost, and how thankful you were when your mentor came through with good advice. Ask your protégée what’s going on, and if no struggles are put forth, dig a little deeper.  In the end, your mentee will be grateful that you heard what he or she wasn’t saying.

Give Unbiased Advice.

Giving advice is easy. Giving good advice is much more difficult. In the mentoring relationship, being an advisor can become even trickier. Most folks, when faced with a choice tend to see a bifurcated path, and will attempt to designate one choice as “good” and the other as “bad.” As lawyers, we’ve been taught to abandon this trait, but that doesn’t eliminate the tendency entirely. When advising your mentee, try to remember that their path may not mirror yours, and they may have different and important reasons for making the choices they make. Before you judge his or her decision as wrong, try to find out why he or she is making that choice.

When advising your protégée, it’s important to keep in mind their goals, dreams, and ideal career path. Do your best not to impose your personal or professional goals on him or her, and to keep your mentee’s unique path in mind. This is much easier if you take time to get to know your protégée personally before you start doling out the advice. I recommend a casual lunch or coffee before you give any advice whatsoever.

Counsel.

What makes counseling any different from giving advice? It’s empathy. You remember what it was like to be a young lawyer. The pride, the fear, the joy were all parts of your daily existence as a new member of the bar embarking on a career. Who better than you to help a young lawyer beginning their trek?

As a mentor, you are in a position to give personal, professional, legal, and lay advice to a young lawyer who has asked for your help. They have reached out to a mentoring program with the goal of connecting with someone like you, and they want to know what counsel you can give. You know what they are going through better than most anyone else on the planet, and you can help make them better professionals, better lawyers, and with some long-term guidance- better mentors.

Joyce Brafford is a North Carolina attorney and Practice Management Advisor. As Assistant Director of the Center for Practice Management at the NC Bar Association, she helps solo practitioners and law firms find the right practice management tools for their business. She provides individual and firm consultations on legal research and MS Office, as well as identifying appropriate tech resources which the NCBA provides as part of its member benefit suite.

Joyce is a graduate of William Peace University and Campbell University’s School of Law. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Education for Successful Parenting and is a provisional member of the Junior League of Raleigh.

If you’d like to join a mentoring program, please contact Joyce at 919-657-1566 or jbrafford@ncbar.org. Or you can begin the application process at ncbar.org/mentoring.

About the Author

Joyce Brafford

919-657-1566
jbrafford@ncbar.org

 

Joyce Brafford is a North Carolina attorney and Practice Management Advisor. As Assistant Director of the Center for Practice Management at the NC Bar Association, she helps solo practitioners and law firms find the right practice management tools for their business. She provides individual and firm consultations on legal research and MS Office, as well as identifying appropriate tech resources which the NCBA provides as part of its member benefit suite.

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