Why Legal Professionals Need More Than One Mentor
By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD, Robert Half
A legal colleague mentioned he has three different mentors helping to guide him in various work and career decisions. When I expressed my surprise, he suggested I do the same. Why does it help to have multiple mentors, and how can I identify the kinds of mentoring support I need?
Your colleague is right! Mentors are shaped by their own values and experiences and not all their guidance will resonate with you. Adding more mentors allows you to access a broader range of perspectives and eases the pressure on your primary advisor.
Of course, it’s not the number of mentors that counts so much as the quality of the relationships. Think carefully about your work style and unique needs when choosing a new mentor. What are you lacking? Perhaps your current mentor offers excellent career advice but isn’t comfortable discussing work-related stress. Or maybe they don’t have similar backgrounds or experiences and can’t empathize with certain hurdles you’ve faced in your career.
3 tips for mentor mapping
To build a community of support that meets most of your needs, you can use a process known as mentor mapping. Here’s how it works:
1. Mark a spot in the center of a piece of paper that will represent you. Write down some support categories relevant to your career goals. For example, if you’re looking to succeed in a high-pressure practice area like litigation, those categories might include “emotional support” and “safe space.” If you’re worried that your skills are rusty, you might write down “professional development” or “requires substantive feedback.”
2. For each category, jot down the names of people who either support you in this area now or might support you in the future. Some names will likely appear only once, while others will repeat across categories. Don’t worry if your map is sparsely populated — it will grow as you expand your network and prioritize different support categories.
3. Review your map and compare the categories where you have existing support to the ones where you’d be flying solo. Why is that? Do you find it easier to ask for training tips than for emotional support? Identifying your weak spots will help you find mentors who will bring something new to the conversation rather than reinforce what others have already told you.
With your map up and running, you’re ready to connect with people who might help you. If there are those in your company who have been successful in areas that you’d like to include in your career future, perhaps your boss could arrange a meeting. If you must approach someone in or outside of your company in a cold email, you don’t have to ask them to be your mentor right away but inquire about a one-time meeting to get advice on your career goals.
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 and permanent placement solutions, and is the parent company of Protiviti®, a global consulting firm. Visit RobertHalf.com.