Mentorships: Giving Back to the Next Legal Generation

Global pandemic. Social justice. Police violence. Racial bias. 2020 has been a tumultuous year, and no less so for the attorneys, in Boston and around the country, who are navigating the many legal, regulatory and compliance challenges that have arisen in recent months. At a time of unrest, while often tempting to focus inward, many attorneys are reflecting on how they can effect change—both on a large and small scale. These efforts range from speaking out about societal change on a national platform to seeking ways to connect with others on an individual level. Furthermore, there are a number of options for Boston-based attorneys to become a mentor and start giving back to the next generation of lawyers.

As Brené Brown said, “Connection is why we are here: It is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” One way attorneys form such connections is through mentor relationships. Mentorship provides both participants the opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship. Not only do mentees gain valuable professional guidance that’s based on experience, but mentors frequently report that they too benefit in a number of significant ways. By giving back to the next generation, mentoring attorneys often find that they are sharpening their own skills in the process, increasing their visibility among an important demographic in the workplace and experiencing a sense of personal fulfillment.

Mentorship Opportunities for Attorneys in the Boston Area

Mentor relationships among attorneys are often created through established intra-organization networks that provide structure for the relationship, including pairing, suggested discussion/conversation topics and accountability for both mentor and mentee. For example, many law firms will offer mentor programs assigning new associates to a partner or senior associate to assist with directing the associate’s career path within the firm.

While not as common, larger in-house corporate legal departments may have mentorship programs that offer new legal team members guidance pertaining to internal client relationships as well as corporate politics and process, industry focus and workflow. Recognizing that corporate legal departments do not typically create formal mentorship programs, the MOSAIC Collective offers in-house legal professionals from around the globe the opportunity to engage in mentoring relationships. Founded in London by former in-house counsel, the MOSAIC Collective pairs mentors with mentees within in-house legal departments across companies, industries, and countries.

There are also a number of organizations in the Boston area offering mentorship programs to foster career development among attorneys of a similar gender, race or ethnic background. Legal professionals often recognize there is tremendous value in mentoring attorneys who are relatable because of their gender, race or ethnic background. These relationships facilitate the exploration of challenges through a similar lens from someone who “has been in the same shoes” (although perhaps a slightly different style, vintage or size). For example, since 2009, the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts (WBA) has hosted the Women’s Leadership Initiative, which—through a competitive selection process—pairs “rising stars” with accomplished women attorneys. Participants are provided a role model mentor for one-on-one communication and are also encouraged to attend larger (this year, virtual) events. The Boston Lawyers Group also runs a mentorship program for law students of color, introducing law students to firm-based attorneys from diverse racial backgrounds to offer the students guidance as they launch their legal careers.

To that point, it can be equally important for mentor relationships to be comprised of attorneys from a different gender or race to broaden one’s network and perspective. Such relationships are critical to ensure attorneys expand their networks and do not get siloed. Mentoring often allows attorneys to engage with other attorneys from a different generation or background or with a diverse perspective. Experienced attorneys may not have deep connections with junior attorneys, and a mentor relationship offers a front row seat to the Gen X, Millennial or Gen Z mindsets. For example, a younger attorney can assist a mentor with social media or the mentee can serve as a useful advisor when the mentor is facing a challenging conversation or situation with a more junior attorney on his or her team. Recognizing this value, some organizations will intentionally create a “reverse” mentorship program for a more senior executive to be mentored by a junior professional. Such a program fosters the interconnectivity between the generations but is purposely intended for the more junior employee to mentor the more experienced professional.

While there is value in serving as a mentor through a formal program, many attorneys acknowledge that, as the case with many relationships, the best mentorships often arise organically. These relationships frequently develop when an attorney recognizes the talent and promise of a more junior attorney and takes the initiative to engage. Sometimes these relationships evolve within the same workplace, although they can also develop through professional associations, networking and even via social media.

Value for the Mentor

When asked, mentors typically identify personal fulfilment, pride and satisfaction as the greatest rewards from mentoring. They recognize that there is deep gratification in witnessing someone obtain their career goals and in the knowledge that they may have played even a small part in that accomplishment. Experienced attorneys recognize that there was someone who reached up, down or sideways to help them achieve their goals—and it is satisfying to pay it forward to someone else. Sharing career advice as a mentor provides a window into appreciating one’s own experiences and accomplishments and the opportunity to pause and self-reflect.

Mentoring also provides both participants with the opportunity to gain and hone critical skills. Mentors often serve as a sounding board and coach, which are both valuable for experienced attorneys as well as those who are seeking a management role. Active listening is a core skill, and mentoring provides the opportunity to practice hearing and helping another professional without a direct management relationship. Likewise, coaching another attorney fosters collaboration, trust-building and empathy, which are also signature traits of effective leaders.

Finally, mentor attorneys acknowledge that their mentor relationships are almost always reciprocal and long lasting with another smart, talented and accomplished attorney. As a result, mentors find their mentees often open doors and networking opportunities. And, of course, just like other professional relationships that develop through work, mentors and mentees often become lifelong personal friends sharing valuable advice, perspective and insight on topics far beyond the workplace. At this perhaps unprecedented time in history, there are a number of avenues that Boston-based legal professionals can pursue to form these kinds of mutually beneficial relationships within their professional spheres, and give back both to their field and their community.

Thank you to the following people for contributing to this article:

Meredith Ainbinder, Assistant Vice-President, Deputy General Counsel, Emerson College

Meghan Cooper, Associate, Peabody & Arnold, LLP

Claire Debney, Principal, The MOSAIC Collective

Bill Gabovitch, General Counsel, Primark US Corp

Carolyn Hebsgaard, Executive Director, Boston Lawyers Group

Eileen Hunter, Vice-President, Head of Global Litigation, Boston Scientific

Yalonda Howze, General Counsel, Codiak Biosciences

Lizette Perez-Deisboeck, General Counsel and  Chief Compliance Officer, Battery Ventures

Mary Ryan, Partner, Nutter

Emma Sharpe, Principal, The MOSAIC Collective

Abim Thomas, Vice-President, Fidelity Investments

Min Wang, Chief Operating Officer  (former General Counsel), BlueRock Therapeutics

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