Training, coaching, and mentoring can all be powerfully effective ways for you to help grow your firm and your team. You want your team to be their best, and by investing in them and providing opportunities for them to increase their skill level and excel in their positions, you will ultimately increase their motivation, productivity, and overall commitment to you. Effective mentorship is directly related to higher retention of your key performers. It sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? So why do mentorship efforts at so many firms fall short of reaching these desired outcomes? The answer is that, generally, firm leaders don’t understand what mentorship truly means or how to design an effective mentorship program.
First, let’s talk about the difference between training, coaching, and mentorship. Are they interchangeable terms? No! But they each have a critical place in the plan for developing your firm.
Mentorship has key purposes that play a specific role in law firms and for attorneys. While young lawyers can be trained on the formal rules governing legal practice, mentorship can familiarize them with the informal rules that will guide their daily decision-making. Mentorship guides young attorneys in their ethical acculturation. This is more obviously beneficial to the mentee (the protégé); however, it is beneficial to you as a firm leader as well when you consider your own need to have your new associates develop into strong, successful, well-rounded representatives of your firm and your firm’s core values.
The cost of getting it wrong
Improperly designed mentorship plans can actually have a potentially detrimental effect on your team. For a mentee, having a perception that their mentor failed them can be very detrimental to their job engagement. A bad mentorship experience can even weaken the mentee’s chances of overall success. The mentee can be left with feelings of resentment toward their mentor and toward your firm in general. In addition, studies have shown that a failed mentorship can be equally detrimental to the mentor. The mentor may feel a deep failure personally. In return, they may suffer from a loss of confidence and even creativity in their own work.
How to get it right
If you want to institute an effective mentorship program at your firm, there are a couple of things you can do to help ensure its success. Keeping these points in mind will help you accomplish the goals you wish to achieve by instituting a mentorship plan.
Willingness: Both parties to a mentorship relationship must be interested and willing to be a part of the relationship. A mentor should want to be a mentor. A mentee should want to have a mentor. Start by building a collaborative and learning culture within your firm. Set the expectation that knowledge sharing and cultivation tie to your core values. In the end, if both parties are not willing participants in the process, then you will not be set up for success.
The benefits of the relationship to the mentee may seem obvious, however, many potential mentees may be very resistant. A mentee must feel they are in a place of needing mentorship. It’s important to introduce them to the idea carefully and thoughtfully without belittling them or making them feel inadequate. Additionally, some potential mentors can be resistant to the idea of taking on their role. What’s in it for the mentor? Just a bunch of added responsibility, right? There are some benefits for the mentor as well. More responsibility could potentially come with more compensation. Additionally, the recognition alone of being chosen as a mentor can be very motivational to a team member.
Personality fit: When pairing up a mentor with a mentee, consider their individual personalities. Do they have anything in common? There needs to be a good personality fit to help them build a solid relationship. Hopefully you are hiring for your culture, and hopefully your team members all share your firm’s core values. Bringing in the right personalities to your firm to start with is the foundation for this fit.
Nevertheless, for this tighter knit relationship to work, it must be a good, natural personality fit between the mentor and mentee. Consider what they may have in common, what their individual communication styles are, and their complementary strengths and weaknesses. If you know they simply won’t gel, consider a different pairing.
Common goals: What is the goal of this initiative? You should all have outlined goals. What do you, as the firm owner/ leader, see as the potential benefits? What does the mentor hope to gain? What does the mentee believe they will garner from the relationship? These goals should not only be determined in the beginning, but they should be communicated openly.
If there are competing goals, you are setting the plan up for failure. Work towards creating a set of common goals to which all involved can aspire.
Leadership skills: You just hired a new associate. You decide to pair them up with your most experienced and successful trial attorney. This individual is such a great attorney, undoubtedly, they will make a great mentor, right? Unfortunately, not always. Being great and successful in your own job does not automatically equivalate to being a great teacher or leader.
If you are considering designing a mentorship program within your firm, take the time to pinpoint who you would like to place into the mentor roles. Then, take some time to develop them as leaders first. This is such a crucial step that is often overlooked.
Access: Does everyone at your firm get a mentor? Just certain positions? Does your team know the answer to these questions? If you design a mentorship program within your firm, make sure it is equitable. In a recent study done on the importance of mentorship in the early stages of career development among attorneys, it was noted that significantly fewer female attorneys reported having had a mentor than their male colleagues.
Those findings could be significant on many levels, however, at minimum, it provides an example of the need for equitable access to any mentorship program that you design for your firm. Failure to do so could not only carry legal consequences but cause significant harm to your firm’s culture.
By keeping these points in mind, you will be much more likely to develop a successful mentorship plan for your firm. Developing key performers and ensuring they stay loyal and committed to you and your firm is presumably one of your top goals. Having a highly effective team is a key to success. In order to be the best, you must have the best team, so integrating training, coaching, and mentorship should be among your firm’s top priorities.