The Importance of Mentoring Throughout Your Legal Career

by Ann McQuesten, YLS Futures Committee member
I recently found myself at happy hour with my mentor, an experienced attorney, and my mentee, a first-year law student. As someone still very new to the practice of law, but with enough distance from the first year of law school to (hopefully) have a bit of good advice, it got me thinking about how mentorship - both giving and receiving - can benefit attorneys at all stages of their careers.

Mentoring has always been an important part of new attorneys' professional development. Traditionally it came primarily on the job from senior associates or partners. Now, with many new attorneys taking paths other than the traditional law firm, various organizations have developed mentoring programs outside the employment context.
Most significant for lawyers admitted since 2011 is the OSB New Lawyer Mentoring Program. This is a mandatory program aimed at giving new bar members meaningful, one-on-one access to experienced lawyers during the new members' first year of practice. The program includes substantive, practice-area-specific activities that expose new admittees not just to networking opportunities, but also to real legal work and feedback from experienced practitioners.
Although the program demands a substantial time commitment from new lawyers and their mentors, it does so in order to provide the full scale of benefits that a mentoring relationship can offer. By requiring new lawyers and mentors to go beyond networking and career advice to substantive legal work, new lawyers gain practical skills they can apply to the various real-life challenges they may face. Given that many new attorneys work as contract lawyers or in solo practice without access to traditional on-the-job training, a comprehensive mentoring program is more important than ever.
Beyond the practical benefits that the program provides, it also gets new lawyers involved in mentoring from the beginning of their careers. Building mentorship into the foundation of the bar's value system should result in members who continue to mentor junior lawyers and seek guidance from senior lawyers throughout their careers.
No lawyer should think he or she is too inexperienced to be a mentor. Conversely, even the most seasoned attorneys can continue to learn and grow by drawing on their colleagues' knowledge and experience. In addition to the OSB's program, the MBAand all three Oregon law schools each have mentor programs, all of which welcome dedicated and enthusiastic participants.
The OSB New Lawyer Mentoring Program is only in its first year and will likely undergo changes based on feedback from its first group of participants. No matter what the format, I hope to be a lifelong mentor and mentee. I also hope that attorneys at all stages of their careers will see the value in the mentoring relationships that allow us to continually grow and succeed as a legal community.