Mentoring programs exist in almost every field to help find and develop talent. For local legal firms, mentoring programs help new lawyers find their footing as well as adjust to the general legal community.
According to Patricia Shlonsky, partner in charge and chair of the tax practice group at Ulmer & Berne LLP in Cleveland, and Jennifer Slife, professional development consultant at Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, LLC in Akron, mentoring programs are good places for new lawyers to get hands-on experience.
“Practicing in a law firm is new and different,” Shlonsky said. “That is part of it – just to get adjusted. It can be intimidating to come into a firm and students think everyone there knows exactly what they are doing and he or she doesn’t. So, (mentoring programs) are good because they have someone they can go to and help them adjust. They can know they aren’t alone and have someone they can come to if they need help.”
Slife said, “Mentoring programs are extremely important. You want to make sure you’re tying in and integrating the associate as much as possible. When creating formal relationships, you’re creating a network in which they can ask questions and get answers. Inevitably, our goal is to help them create a network past their formal mentors.”
Both firms said mentees learn various skills in these programs.
“They learn how to adjust to the new job and learn about the people they are working with,” Shlonsky said. “They get to know their surroundings. And they learn how the firm works, from an administrative perspective and a client perspective, which helps ease them into the process.”
Slife said, “There are things you can sit down and teach in law school but we want lawyers to understand the nuances of being at a law firm. By meeting with clients with a more senior supervisor or in talking with a mentor about their experience, that is important for them to be able to shadow and see how that is done.”
Each practice’s program differs slightly but offers participants an inside look into practicing law.
“Each associate is assigned a supervisor and that is a partner in the firm and they handle the majority of the giving them work,” Slife said. “A lot of the mentoring does happen in that relationship. And the second prong is having a mentor – a junior partner with a senior associate. They are assigned to a different practice group in the office. That is to give the individual a wide view of the firm.”
Shlonsky said, “Like other large firms, we bring in summer associates and each one is assigned a mentor. These people get them comfortable and help them understand how the firm works. It’s more social and getting them ingrained in the inner workings of a law firm. For our first year lawyers that we hire out of school, they are assigned a mentor and the goal is to assist them with the transition of being a student to a lawyer.”
Though both firms assign mentors to their newcomers, Shlonsky said its OK if someone feels as though his or her mentor isn’t a good fit.
“They need to know there is someone they can go to for an adjustment,” she said.
Slife added, “It is about finding someone that balances out their needs. Find a varied group that helps a student in their growth, both personal and professional. I believe that mentorship programs, both formal and informal, are important. Young lawyers should take full advantage of those opportunities.”