Need a Career Boost? Find a Mentor

By Jamy J. Sullivan, J.D.,
Robert Half 


Whether you’re fresh out of school or a legal professional with more tenure, getting advice from your peers and superiors will make you a better lawyer. What’s more, the benefits seem to go both ways: More than one-third of senior executives polled by Robert Half said that being a mentor helped them improve their own leadership skills. 

Potential mentors can be anywhere and anyone, including fellow professionals, a sympathetic boss, or even a law school professor or alum.

This is a profession tailor-made for collaboration, so there’s no need to go it alone. Here are four ways mentors can help you take your legal career to the next level. 

They act as a sounding board 

Certain aspects of legal etiquette and culture can be as bewildering to entry-level legal professionals as they are familiar to senior ones. How do you effectively present new ideas to senior leaders? How should you conduct a business lunch? How casual is business casual attire? 

Your mentor has been there, done that. They can critique your presentation the night before you show it to your boss or suggest an outfit for the company picnic. Your mentor wants you to perform well since that reflects well on them. Everybody wins. 

They share an in-depth knowledge of the field 

Then there are the cases you’ll handle. Some can be tough nuts to crack, whether you’re a newly minted or mid-level legal professional. The law is built on precedent, which means that finding people who have previously argued similar cases can be critical to your success. If you already have a mentor to turn to, you’ll find yourself with a seasoned guide in your early years, or a dependable collaborator in your later ones. Either way, you’ll have someone to bounce ideas off of whose background and experience may end up opening your eyes to a solution you hadn’t seen. 

They help you network 

It can be awkward to introduce yourself to people who can help you and hard to know exactly who those people are. Your mentor may be able to introduce you to their contacts or point you in the direction of hiring and promotional opportunities. If your mentor works above you in the same department or firm, they can give you a reference or recommendation when you need one. Think of your mentor as your champion in a tough and competitive field. 

They show you the bigger picture 
When your head is down and you’re working hard, you may not have the time, much less the inclination, to think about your future. If you’re intimidated by the very idea of plotting a course towards your ideal legal career, your mentor might be able to help. That’s simply because he or she may have walked the same path you’re walking now and can help you see the steps leading from where you are now to where you want to be in 10 or 20 years. Is there a particular skill set you’d like to acquire? A new area of the law that interests you? A managing attorney or GC with whom you want to work more closely? Your mentor will remember what it’s like to be at the beginning of their career and can help cast a light on the bigger picture when you’re just too busy to see it. 
Surrounding yourself with trustworthy people is a good idea in any career, but in the legal field it can provide you with a crucial lifeline before you even realize you need one. Reach out to someone you respect and ask if they’d be willing to guide you. You’ll gain a champion and confidante, and they’ll have the satisfaction of helping you write the next chapter of a successful legal career. 


Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm. Robert Half offers contract, temporary and permanent placement solutions, and is the parent company of Protiviti®, a global consulting firm. Visit