Career Development » Mentoring Lawyers Well – Practical Tips and Lessons Learned

Mentoring Lawyers Well – Practical Tips and Lessons Learned

By Ty Kelly and Kristine Roberts

March 18, 2024

group of business people at mentoring session

Kristine L. Roberts co-chairs the Baker Women Mentoring Committee at Baker Donelson.  She also is the Chair of the firm’s Financial Services Department and represents banking and financial institutions companies in a litigation matters.

Ty Kelly co-chairs the Baker Women Mentoring Committee at Baker Donelson.  She also serves on the Board of Directors. She is a member of the Government Enforcement and Investigations practice group.

While we at Baker Donelson have long offered mentoring opportunities to our lawyers, we have had to continually revise, revamp, and retool our mentoring programs to meet the evolving and diverse needs of our lawyers and the dynamics of the workplace. What we have learned through this process only reinforces what we always knew: There is immense value in mentoring for career and leadership advancement as well as professional satisfaction. This is why the ability to evolve and continue to offer new and innovative programs for mentoring lawyers at all stages of their careers is mission-critical.

As a starting point, the legal community has long been aware that there is a strong correlation between mentoring programs and advancement in law firms. The advantages of mentoring can include greater career success in terms of promotion and advancement, more career satisfaction, and increased engagement and integration within an organization. These benefits enrich the overall culture at any legal organization – it is well documented that both mentors and mentees benefit from the mentoring relationship.

There are multiple forms of mentoring relationships, including peer-to-peer mentoring pairs and mentoring circles or pods. There is no one-size-fits-all program that will appeal to or work for all lawyers. When establishing a new mentoring program, it is a good idea to talk to colleagues, conduct focus groups, and send surveys to find out what potential participants are hoping to gain from the experience. Once implemented, continuing to seek feedback on what is working and what is not helps to ensure that the program is continuing to meet lawyers’ needs.

It is also important to consider new initiatives and strategies for increased engagement and to support mentoring relationships – which today will undoubtedly include both online and in-person options. In addition to traditional one-on-one mentoring pairs, law firms and in-house legal departments can offer mentoring circles within or across offices, topic mentoring provided by lawyers with particular expertise in certain areas, and mentoring in small groups or pods. To encourage meaningful conversations, consider hosting programs on how to be a better mentor and mentee, as well as topics that are likely to be explored in mentoring, like balance, leadership, and navigating common issues among lawyers.

The pod or small group format for mentoring involves groups of five or six members with a range of seniority. This arrangement provides opportunities for multifaceted mentoring and learning from colleagues at different levels of experience. It also allows for support among more senior lawyers, who often have fewer opportunities for mentoring.

Additionally, a pod arrangement reduces the likelihood of hit-or-miss mentoring that sometimes occurs in one-on-one relationships if one or both of the members lose interest, are too busy, or simply fail to schedule mentoring sessions. With a pod, there are more avenues of accountability, sources of feedback, and opportunities for connection. The intent is to create new and more dynamic and supportive mentoring and accountability relationships. Pods also create informal networks that help with the retention and advancement of women and diverse lawyers. Pods can explore their members’ specific challenges and goals, and each pod meeting should generate actionable feedback and concrete ideas.

Perhaps the most important aspect of ensuring the success of a mentorship program is consistently measuring its progress and making changes as needed. Law firms and in-house departments should conduct periodic surveys of mentors and mentees – or reach out directly to mentoring pods and individual members – to determine what is working well and what challenges participants are facing. If the current arrangement is not meeting participants’ needs, the organization must be committed to trying something else. We have found that only by being open to change and responsive to feedback – both positive and constructive – can we build truly successful mentoring programs.

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