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The more the merrier

|Written By Charmane Sing

To be honest with you, an article about mentoring doesn’t sound tooexciting. And I’m not even going to try to convince you this one willrock your world, nor will I strive to change your mind about mentoring.What I hope to do is to share my wealth of experience (all 10 months’worth) with you and hopefully to somewhat entertain you for 0.1 percent of your time.

When I first started out as an associate, I was told I needed to choose a partner from my practice group to be my mentor. Right away, I knew who I wanted to be my mentor because I have always secretly (now not so secretly) admired him for being an extremely able lawyer. When I approached him, he was a bit reluctant at first but nonetheless agreed to be my mentor. He told me he was hesitant about it primarily because he wasn’t sure whether he would be a good mentor. At the beginning, I did not truly understand his concerns, but over time I started to see how good mentoring can make such a significant impact to a young lawyer’s career.

Every mentoring relationship is different and multifaceted. For example, not only is my mentor responsible for all the usual firm administration matters relating to me (such as being in the loop about my monthly billable hours and periodic evaluation), he also answers any questions I may have about the law or the practice of law, provides frequent constructive feedback, assists in finding solutions to a number of issues ranging from ethics to client management, and provides guidance in my career development.

In my opinion, what really makes my mentor a good one is that he takes a genuine interest in my career and my well-being. For example, once I sought some advice in handling a situation where my key concern was whether I would come across to the other party as an unpleasant person (read as: one word, starts with the letter b). My mentor not only gave his opinion on the issue but also suggested I approach some other female partners at the firm for their insight. I remembered mentioning in passing that I didn’t know other female senior lawyers well enough to approach them on such issues. Shortly after my conversation with my mentor, a female lawyer phoned me and invited me to lunch — so we could get to know each other and to ensure I knew there were other lawyers in the firm to turn to should I require any assistance or mentoring. It is without doubt that I love food (and free lunches) and the chance to know another lawyer from the firm, but what I really felt after my lunch, and consistently throughout this first year of my practice, was that my mentor cares about me and my professional development.

I like having a number of mentors, such as other lawyers from my practice group or people I worked with in the past (a judge or an in-house counsel), to gain different insights. It is impossible for one person to simply be the best coach in every area relating to the practice of law. Also, how would you know what sort of practice style you want to adopt if you only have one mentor? Or worse, you are assigned to a mentor who never seems to have any time for you, or to someone who doesn’t even know your name. Therefore, the principle of “the more the merrier” applies.

Being a young, inexperienced lawyer is not easy and can be stressful at times. There are many things that were not taught in law school and the first few years of practice are a steep learning curve. However, this learning process should not be a lonely journey, but rather accompanied by mentors who can support and guide you along the way. Therefore, I think that if one were to succeed, or simply to survive, in law, having a good mentor (or two or more) certainly helps.

A word of caution about mentors, though: even if you have a lot of trust and respect for your mentor, your mentor may not be the best person to approach for advice relating to matters outside of the legal practice. For example, when my laptop from law school finally decided to quit on me last year, I was convinced that I should invest in an Apple MacBook. I’m not sure whether I was persuaded by my Mac-loving mentor, my desire to be cool, or both, but I ended up spending more money to buy a MacBook. Being a PC user since I started playing Oregon Trail  (an educational game about 19th century pioneer life) on a floppy disk, I also ended up spending more time learning to use the Mac. Believe me, when you are pressed for time and trying to figure out a function in the middle of the night, you wonder why you took the advice that you would be happier with a Mac, with its cool functions, when really all you ever use on your laptop is Word and Internet Explorer (or Safari).

Charmane Sing is an associate at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Vancouver and is a member of the Associates editorial board.

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