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Feature Article

July 2014 Issue


The Value of Finding and Being a Professional Mentor

by Charles Volkert, Esq.

There are many different types of mentoring relationships, but all provide benefits to both the advisor and the protégé. These pairings are becoming more and more desirable, to the point that many legal job applicants inquire about a firm’s mentoring program during the interview process.

Value of a professional mentor
Good mentoring relationships are important from the very beginning of a legal career. In fact, they can be pivotal to the success or failure of law students. Good mentors, be they professors or practicing attorneys, can help students decide which type of law might suit them and how they can tailor their educational and career paths to align with their aspirations.

In addition, mentors can help law students expand their professional networks so they can land a promising internship, clerkship or legal job. Some mentors prepare mentees for job interviews by going over possible questions, the best answers and even salary negotiation strategies.

Long-lasting effects of mentoring at work
Mentoring doesn’t end after the mentee starts to practice. According to the National Legal Mentoring Consortium, “Clients, the public and the profession are best served through healthy lawyering practices and by the highest ideals of professionalism and collegiality, which can be effectively developed through mentoring.” The best mentoring relationships are long-term.

When paired with an in-house professional mentor, new lawyers and legal support staff have a sounding board for career advice and an experienced guide for the cases they’re preparing. Midlevel associates and senior attorneys also can provide novices with valuable coaching and can help them navigate the office culture and the courtroom. By offering insights, insider knowledge and gentle correction, mentors increase the chances that their mentees will have a successful legal career.

Mentoring as a two-way street
The mentee isn’t the only one who benefits from this relationship. By offering mentoring at work, a more experienced lawyer gets great satisfaction from helping less experienced ones develop into seasoned professionals. In addition, by introducing promising young legal talent to their professional network, mentors strengthen their own reputations. And as their protégés expand and develop their own practices, they often introduce their professional mentor to new contacts, returning the favor.

What’s more, the best teachers often learn from their students. Junior lawyers, paralegals and legal staff members are more apt to spend time poring over legal texts and researching strategies. In the process, they may come across a new application of a ruling that a more experienced lawyer hasn’t considered. Younger legal professionals may also have fresh and interesting ways of using technology in their jobs. Mentors can gain new perspectives from their protégés, which in turn can spark new ways of thinking, working and strategizing.

Types of mentoring relationships
Many firms are recognizing the increased demand for mentoring at work and are responding by implementing formal programs. Practices that don’t have mentorships could experience retention problems because young lawyers don’t have the guidance they need to stay engaged with their jobs. They could also have trouble recruiting new talent, as legal job candidates value such programs for personal growth and consider them highly when deciding which firm or organization to join.

While in-house mentorships are the most effective and yield a high return on investment, other options are possible. In workplaces without a structured program, junior lawyers can approach respected mid- or senior-level attorneys about the possibility of a mentoring relationship. Another option for new legal professionals is to continue a relationship with an existing mentor, such as a former professor. In addition, professional associations can match law students, paralegals and legal secretaries with mentors in their specialty. Nothing beats in-person mentorships, but such relationships can also exist online, by phone or via Skype.

There are no losers when it comes to mentoring at work and being mentored. With a little time investment, the less-experienced legal professional gains a wealth of knowledge that can’t be found in the classroom. The professional mentor gets the satisfaction of paying it forward and learning in return. The legal firm benefits by having more engaged employees, lower turnover and a core team of associates ready to succeed retirees.

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 provides managed review and e-discovery services. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and international markets.

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Question & Answer

July 2014 Issue

Q: I want to look for a new job and advance in my paralegal career, but I’ve been with my current employer for more than a decade. How can I make sure my skills are up to par with others competing for the same paralegal jobs? What should I do to wow potential employers with my cover letter and resume?


Congratulations on taking the first step toward moving your paralegal career forward. Because you haven’t looked for a job in awhile, you may want to catch up on the latest trends affecting legal careers, brush up on certain skills and revamp your legal resume and cover letter to make sure your application really stands out.

Continuing legal education (CLE)
Brush up on new laws and high technology trends in the legal world by signing up for continuing legal education courses. Paralegals are eligible to take nearly every CLE course that’s available to lawyers. Webinars are convenient and inexpensive, and sometimes even free. In-person events require money and travel time, but you get the advantage of face-to-face networking— a sure boon to your paralegal career.

Though most courses run from $50 to hundreds of dollars each, there are several free CLE programs:

  • The American Bar Association has a Free CLE Series that allows members to earn up to 18 credits per year. Paralegals can join the ABA as Associates for about $25 a month.
  • In some states, you can earn credits via LexVid, which offers a host of free CLE videos.
  • The 4FreeCLE blog lists upcoming live courses, both in-person and online. Most events are free, though a few charge a fee if you are not a member of a certain organization.
  • Many states’ bar association websites list free online CLE courses for members.

In addition, associations such as the Association of Legal Administrators, National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and NALS offer continuing education courses specific to the legal profession.

Attention-grabbing resumes and cover letters
A lot has changed in the 10+ years since you’ve applied for a job. You might consider consulting a recruiter, who can steer you toward positions best suited to your interests and skills. You should also revamp your legal resume: 

  • Eliminate lists explaining your various duties, and instead focus on your biggest career accomplishments and achievements.
  • Mention specializations. Employers are particularly interested in paralegals with expertise in healthcare, general business and commercial law.
  • List relevant attributes or qualifications, such as foreign languages or a background in finance.

Revise and proofread your resume and cover letter several times before sending it; you wouldn’t want to ruin your chances with typos or muddy writing.

What impresses hiring managers? A clean and informative resume that showcases your extensive experience, exemplary hard and soft skills and command of recent developments in the profession. Prepare for your job search by updating your skill set and even getting credentialed, and watch your paralegal career take off.    

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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