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Feature Article

January 2015 Issue

Seven Ways You Can Boost Your Legal Career by Becoming a Mentor

by Charles Volkert, Esq.

Much has been written about how mentoring programs at law firms and corporate legal departments better integrate new hires, improve retention and help entry-level professionals negotiate the legal career ladder. However, what many people forget is that this is a two-way street: A mentor can get as much out of the relationship as the mentee.

In general, mentors provide support and guidance to those under their wings. A good mentor may help a young lawyer or paralegal learn the ropes, choose a specialty, gain professional contacts and tackle workplace challenges. This advisor does not manage the advisee — and for good reason. By not being responsible for the day-to-day supervision of a mentee, a mentor can focus more on teaching than managing.

If you’ve dismissed the idea of becoming a mentor because you believe it will take too much time and energy, you may want to reconsider. Here are the seven benefits of mentoring for your legal career:

  1. Boost your soft skills. Mentoring is an opportunity to improve your abilities in communication, leadership, management and other valuable soft skills. Traits like empathy, candor and diplomacy are important in order to be a good mentor, and developing these characteristics can help you in your interactions with clients and colleagues. Assist your protégé by listening to his or her questions and opinions, giving advice and recognizing successes. Such skills will also help you become a better manager and coworker.
  2. Learn new concepts. While you may keep up with developments in the legal field by reading law journals and taking continuing legal education sources, another way to be informed on the latest research, newest technologies and freshest perspectives is to mentor a junior legal professional. Your mentee might be more up-to-date on electronic case-management techniques, for example, and give you tips on how to take advantage of these and other developments. This is sometimes known as reverse mentoring.
  3. Bridge generational gaps. In a multigenerational workplace, it’s to your advantage to get to know the different approaches, mindsets and expectations of employees newer to the legal field. When a boomer mentors a Gen Xer or a Gen Xer mentors a Millennial, everyone benefits by deepening relationships with people of diverse ages, backgrounds and experiences — as long as everyone maintains an open mind. These informal connections can go a long way toward boosting teamwork and promoting collegiality.
  4. Expand your network. As a mentor, one of your primary responsibilities is to widen your mentee’s networking circle, both within your firm and outside of it. But as your charge moves up in her career and meets other professionals, you will start to benefit from the contacts she has cultivated independently from you.
  5. Change your perspective. Because your mentee will be paying attention to and asking questions about your techniques, processes and organizational skills, you may wind up seeing your own approaches through his eyes — a helpful perspective to gain. Mentees have a way of indirectly challenging their mentors to examine their routines and to make any necessary tweaks in work habits. In addition, many mentors find that teaching a particular skill or explaining a task helps them better understand it themselves.
  6. Advance your firm. If you are in a leadership role in your firm, you are already invested in its success. Becoming a mentor allows you to take on another active role by grooming future leaders and planning for succession. You have the opportunity to instill your firm’s legacy and culture in the next generation of lawyers.
  7. Pay it forward. Think back to an earlier period in your legal career: You probably benefitted from having a mentor, either through a formal program or just from having a seasoned professional you could turn to with questions. If that person has retired, you can repay that good deed by helping someone else along in his career.

Whether you’re in the middle of your career or nearing the end of it, consider beginning a mentoring relationship with a new professional in your firm. A strong mentoring relationship does require a time investment, but the advantages can be invaluable to both your and your mentee’s legal career — as well as the future of the firm or department.

Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal®, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. The company also offers a full suite of legal staffing and consulting services. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and global markets.

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Question & Answer

December 2014 Issue

Q:

How can I get my boss to stop micromanaging? She breathes down my neck, and it’s stressing me out and negatively affecting my work performance. I like my job and don’t want to look for another one, but she’s driving me crazy!

A:

There are many types of bad bosses people can encounter in their legal careers, with the micromanager being just one variety. True, your supervisor’s job is to oversee your work, but this shouldn’t include hovering and needing to know every last detail about your current caseload.

There are several ways to approach this problem — including being upfront and getting some career counseling. To deal with your boss’s overbearing demeanor and boost your job satisfaction, try the following tips:

Check in frequently
Some bosses come across as micromanagers because they either don’t hear from you often enough or they’re not getting necessary information from you. The easy solution is to keep your manager in the loop, especially when your work has a direct effect on how she does her job.

In your weekly report, list the projects you’re working on, what you are doing on each and any problems you’ve run into. She may want numbers, so list how many documents you’ve drafted, the amount of time you spend on e-discovery, and so on. Even though these efforts seem like overkill, frequent status reports may be just what she needs to feel comfortable giving you some breathing room.

With your first check-in email, announce what you’re doing and why. Don’t make it sound accusatory with something like, “It seems that you need more information on what I’m doing.” Instead, write something like this: “Because I’m not sure I’ve been giving you enough information on my various works in progress, I’ve decided to send you a detailed report each week. Please let me know if this seems like overkill, but I want to make sure I’m letting you know enough about what I’m working on, the status of each assignment, and what’s coming down the pike.” If you consistently meet her expectations, she’ll be more likely to loosen up on the reins.

Confront the problem directly
Excellent communication skills can resolve many issues in the workplace. Though a frank discussion with a supervisor is never easy, you need to take that first step if you’re going to stop the micromanaging. Tell your boss you’re eager to learn and grow in your role, but to do that you need more autonomy. In the best-case scenario, this conversation may help your boss realize she’s micromanaging, leading her to back off.

Make sure it isn’t you
Ask whether your performance is up to par; some bosses micromanage because their direct reports’ skills are lacking. In a less-than-ideal scenario, she may say she lacks faith in your abilities, and you’ll have to ask what you can do to gain that trust. Brace yourself for some frank words and possibly a critique of your performance.

Consider career counseling and training
Ask for support if you’re struggling to resolve the issue on your own. Seek out career counseling related to legal careers in your city or online. It’s often helpful to get an outsider’s perspective on your particular situation.

If your boss says she micromanages because she’s worried about your accuracy or time management skills, then you definitely need to up your training and legal continuing education.

Exit gracefully as a last resort
Some people have controlling personalities that can’t be changed. If your boss’s micromanaging doesn’t let up despite your best attempts to gain her trust and resolve the situation, it might be time to consider an exit strategy. Look into transferring to a different team or leaving the firm altogether.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of your micromanaging boss. Before you get to the point where resignation seems to be your only choice, get some career counseling for strategies to improve your job situation. If you work hard to win her trust, chances are you can solve this problem to both your and her satisfaction.

View All Tips

Submit a career-related question to Charles A. Volkert, Esq., executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Charles will answer one question each month!

 
 
 
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