The University of St. Thomas

“Informal Networking”

Published on: Monday, January 24th, 2011

By 3L Callie Lehman

When I used to think about networking, I thought of it in a professional setting—lunch meetings, formal networking events and the like. However, over the last three years I have learned of a different kind of networking, what I would call informal networking. It has proved to be extremely beneficial.

Networking is one of my favorite things to do and I finally realized that I do it on a daily basis, informally. I try to talk to someone new every day, whether it’s someone who is wearing a Wisconsin shirt (my alma matter), someone in line at Caribou, or someone who is carrying a book that I’ve read. The funny thing is, most of these small conversations turn into something more.  Recently, I noticed a woman wearing a Wisconsin shirt and I asked her if she went to school there. We struck up a conversation that revealed that she was a lawyer, and she gave me her card to keep in contact. Showing interest in a person and having something in common with them can turn into something great!

Networking is truly about forming relationships and showing interest in another person. It’s not about “getting something” from another person. I have met several attorneys and other professionals through “informal networking” just by making small talk. I would suggest that anyone nervous about networking at a formal networking event start out small by trying to talk to one new person every day. You will be amazed at the wonderful relationships you build!

The Art of Reconnection

Published on: Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

We all have so much to do and so little time to do it.  Those time crunches are a major enemy of caring for our mentor relationships.  Our mentor relationships often find their way to being the one thing on our “to do” list that we never quite get to.  Before you know it, weeks or even months have slipped away without contact with your mentor.  Soon emotion creeps in.  We are embarrassed that we went so long without calling our mentor.  Maybe we missed our next scheduled e-mail or call.  That embarrassment can paralyze us from reaching out again.  Excuses are easy to come by.  “I was busy with ‘important’ things.”  “Well, it’s not like my mentor called me either.”

At this point in an informal mentor relationship you may be tempted to walk away from the relationship.  But walking away means giving up all benefits that drew you to the mentor relationship to begin with.  It also means giving up on the investment of time and energy you already invested into the relationship.  In a formal program you may not be able to walk away without either failing program requirements or at a minimum offering some sort of explanation to the program administrators.

A better approach is to take the necessary steps to reconnect with your mentor.  So how do you do that?  There area a couple easy steps to reconnecting with your mentor if you let the relationship go a bit.  As an additional benefit, these same steps work well with any of the inevitable mistakes you will make practicing law.

The first step to reconnecting is to overcome your negative emotions that are causing you to procrastinate.  Why delay any longer in calling your mentor?  Ask yourself whether it will be any easier to make the call tomorrow.  Inevitably that answer is no.  It will be uncomfortable to make the call today but it will just be one day more uncomfortable to do it tomorrow.

Step two is to call your mentor to reconnect rather than e-mail.  Remember, the relationship is already feeling disconnected.  E-mail is impersonal and tends to re-enforce that the mentor relationship is disconnect.  Further, it you need to do some work to reconnect, you are really seeking to create conversation to rekindle connection. At best an e-mail “conversation” is a long drawn out affair that may take days.  At worst it is too tedious to really create conversation and it gets cut short.  Phone, on the other hand, creates instant connection.  You can hear your mentor’s voice and instantly create the conversation that needs to happen.

Step three; take responsibility for what has happened.  Once your mentor is one the phone, apologize for the lack of communication and take responsibility for your role in the failure to connect.  It is hard to admit and to accept our failures.  On the other hand, there is no mentor out there who has not made a mistake himself.  Most of the challenges to mentor communication are things your mentor has experienced himself.  Taking responsibility tends to diffuse anger and disappointment.  It also helps open the door to making this a learning experience rather than a true failure.  When we apologize and take responsibility we are acknowledging that we want things to be different in the future.  We open ourselves to hearing from the mentor what he may have learned from similar experiences in his past.  You may learn some new strategies for addressing the underlying time crunches that caused the relationship to go astray to begin with.

Once you have taken responsibility and apologized, it is time to employ some strategies to get the relationship back on track.  During your conversation with your mentor be sure to set a next in person meeting date.  It is easy to forget a phone call or e-mail that is owed, but it is rare to forget an in person appointment.  Going forward, make it policy to never leave one appointment without having the next one set. 

Finally, now that you have reconnected you need to follow through on improving how you conduct the relationship.  All of these strategies for reconnecting mean nothing if you do not actually improve how you conduct yourself going forward.  You get one chance to reconnect.  Letting the relationship slip once is recoverable.  Doing it twice sends the clear message that you are not serious about the relationship.  Why would a mentor want to invest his time if you are not investing yours?

“Reverse Mentoring”

Published on: Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Mentoring has historically been viewed as a very one-sided relationship.  The mentor has much to give to the protégé and receives little back.  Mentoring was seen as filling an empty cup. 

In the last twenty years mentoring has been redefined as a much more reciprocal relationship.  While the mentor often has much more to give than the protégé by virtue of their longer experience, successful protégés also seek ways to give back to their mentors.  In our mentor program we have described that as a return on the mentor’s investment.  That return can be in gratitude, in follow-through, in acknowledgement of the mentor’s impact, or in sharing with your mentor connections or knowledge you have that may be of interest to the mentor.

Mashable recently posted an article entitled, “Reverse Mentoring”.  The article was about how younger professionals can give back to their mentors by sharing technological expertise, especially social media expertise, with mentors who may not have the same comfort with those tools.  Reverse mentoring is a catchy way of describing return on investment for the mentor.  It is describing what the protégé is able to give back to mentors who have shared business expertise and experience with the new professional.

The article is a great reminder that we all have something to give, talents to share, with our mentors.  Our mentors do more for us than we can fully repay, but in sharing our own talents with them we give them a positive return on the investments they make in us.

Collective Reputations

Published on: Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

In Mentor Externship we spend a lot of time talking about how important it is to build and protect your professional reputation.  It takes a lifetime to build your reputation and a day to destroy it. 

However, how often do we think about how our actions affect the collective reputations related to us?  What we do not only reflects on us but it also reflects on our mentors, our employers, and the other organizations of which we are a part.  I remember when I began at my law firm we had practice group meetings and Saturday training sessions that not only helped with skill development, those sessions also focused on doing things the “Rider Way”.  It was constantly drilled into new associates that when they appeared in court or interacted with opposing counsel their actions not only said something about them, they said something about our firm.  New associates benefited from the great reputation built by those who preceded them and they were expected to conduct themselves in a way that built that reputation not damaged it.

This point also applies to how students conduct themselves in MentorExternship.  Our students are out in the community often.  Our first students worked hard to use the mentor program to build a positive reputation.  Each new class of students benefits from that reputation.  However, each new generation of students also risks destroying that reputation if they do not conduct themselves with the highest levels of professionalism. I hope students always consider how their actions impact the rest of our community. 

Thinking about the larger group is not currently in vogue.  Our culture often emphasizes and even glorifies the individual.  We do not emphasize our collective obligations to one another.  Yet, as a peer reviewed profession part of our professional training is to hold each other and ourselves accountable for how our actions impact not only ourselves but each other too. 

So, whether you are a law student or an attorney, give some thought to how hard others worked to build the reputation of your organization and how your own actions impact that reputation.  I think back to helpful advice one of my own mentors used to give all of us as new associates, borrowed from the old television drama Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.”

What Dr. James Andrews Can Teach Us About Client Service

Published on: Monday, November 29th, 2010

In our next Mentor Externship class session we are going to be discussing client service.  How do you become in demand for your clients?  Provide great service to them. Step one is to be available.  It seems simple doesn’t it?  This weekend sportsillustrated.cnn.com had a profile of noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews.  Anyone who follows sports knows about Dr. Andrews.  He is famous in sports for being THE medical expert.  What was interesting about this profile, though, is that is looked back on how Dr. Andrews rose to fame. 

So what is Dr. Andrews’ secret?  Patient service.  Early on in his career he established a habit of being available to his patients when they needed him, a legacy he has carried forward to today.  A related secret? He uses the phone or in person meetings, not e-mail. In the article Dr. Andrews describes his approach:

” ‘You see this,’ Andrews said on a recent fall morning, holding up his cell phone. ‘I return calls. Everyone’s calls.  This morning I had calls in from 10 NFL teams, and I’ll get back to all of them today. My whole career I’ve always tried to be accessible. That’s as important to me as anything. If you call me, you know I’ll get back to you.’ ”
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/the_bonus/11/23/dr.andrews/index.html#ixzz16gyL2I9V

In short, Dr. Andrews built his reputation and his career by developing and sustaining personal relationships.  He takes calls from almost everyone who seeks his opinion.  His former patients, from the famous to the unknown, recommend him to everyone they meet because of the service he provides, the relationships he builds with everyone he treats.

The same lessons can be applied to the law.  Be passionate about what you do and fully service each relationship you establish.  Invest in taking care of your clients when they need you not just when it is convenient to you.  Care about those relationships.  While I can’t guarantee that you will be as well known as Dr. Andrews, clients are always looking for lawyers who care about the service they provide.

A Student Perspective on Key Traits for Mentor Relationships

Published on: Monday, November 22nd, 2010

By J.R. Wise

Reflecting on what has made mentoring meaningful for me, I see three key traits that form a strong meaningful mentor relationship:  (1) Trust; (2) Faith in the protégé; and (3) Compassion.  Two of the most meaningful mentors in my life help illustrate the importance of these traits!

Trust.  The first mentor (outside of my immediate family) I had in my life is a man I call my uncle, Charles Thom (“Chuckie”).  Chuckie entered my life as one of my father’s troops in the USMC.  I was four at the time.  As my father’s subordinate, Chuckie learned to respect my father.  My father encouraged Chuckie to adopt leadership roles and become a role model in the community.  When my father was deployed, he trusted Chuckie enough to move in with our family to look after my mother, brother, and me.  When Chuckie moved in, I initially thought that he was merely my greatest adversary in “Duck Hunt.”  However, as time passed, Chuckie became my soccer coach, my best friend, and to this day, my first mentor.  The trust between Chuckie and me is infinite.  Because of that trust, there has been immeasurable growth in our mentor relationship.  Chuckie is a life coach.  I have trusted him to teach me social development, sportsmanship, and although this is a new endeavor for both of us, dining etiquette.  Without this trust, Chuckie and I would not have a successful mentor relationship.  Without the trust between my father and Chuckie, Chuckie would not have learned to become a mentor.  Without trust, I would not be a third generation mentee; I look forward to mentoring the fourth generation in our chain.

Faith.  The most powerful mentor in my life is Barbara Kalisuch (“Ms. K”).  Ms. K was a high school teacher at Fallbrook Union High School.  She taught the Advancement via Individual Determination course (AVID).  Each year in high school, Ms. K had the incredible ability to turn 30-40 students from underrepresented/underprivileged backgrounds into successful and ambitious students.  I was one of her students.  What made the relationship between Ms. K and me so powerful is the simple fact that she believed in me.  More importantly, she refused to let me not believe in myself and in my potential.  No matter how grim a situation and no matter how rebellious I became, Ms. K never stopped encouraging me.  Because she had faith in me and encouraged me to have faith in myself, I contribute my academic success completely to Ms. K.  Without her steadfast faith, I would be neither a first generation college graduate nor an excelling law student.  The mentor relationship I share with Ms. K grew out of a student-teacher relationship.  The mentoring I do with high school and undergraduate students is a reflection of that mentoring relationship.  Mentoring for high school students and community service projects, I reflect the same faith on to my mentees and on all of my peers.

Compassion.  The most important common denominator in the mentorships I have with Chuckie and Ms. K is compassion.  Only, a compassionate mentor can embrace and embody true mentorship.  When a mentee says, “I can’t.” — A compassionate mentor says, “You can.”  When a mentee says, “I lost.”  — A compassionate mentor says, “You’ve won.”  When a mentee says, “I give up!”  —  A compassionate mentor says, “Try one more time.”

Trust.  Faith in the protege.  Compassion.  When each element is present there is a better chance for a successful and meaningful mentorship.  When a meaningful mentorship exists, new generations of mentors are born.

Creative Problem Solving Skills

Published on: Friday, November 19th, 2010

Lawyers often need to be creative problem solvers.  At the same time, we live in a world filled with deadlines, rules, and stress.  Sometimes those deadlines, rules, and stress box us in and inhibit our ability to creatively problem solve.  So how do you break out of the box and reengage your creative side?

In the August 2010 Edition of the Psychology Today, researchers Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson of North Dakota State University shared the results of a study on improving creativity.  They found that students did far better on creativity testing after thinking like a seven year old. 

Robinson believes that some aspects of thinking like a kid can activate our creative problem solving skills.  He suggests trying some of the following approaches to improve your creative problem solving:

1) Don’t take yourself so seriously.

2) Find time everyday for one spontaneous activity. 

3) View task as opportunity for explorative rather than duties. 

4) Be present and live in the moment to appreciate fun when it naturally occurs.

5) Resist the argue to fill up all of your free time.

If you are stuck and looking for ways to generate creative solutions, you may want to consider trying Robinson’s suggestions.

Organization and Productivity

Published on: Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Our 2nd Year Mentor Externship students were recently asked to perform a self assessment on their organizational and time management skills as part of a profession on that topic.  They were also encouraged to ask their mentors how they keep their professional obligations organized.  What emerged from our readings, the self assessments, and class dialog was a helpful array of organization and time management suggestions. 

The wide variety of systems that worked for different students and for different lawyers was a good reminder that there is no one solution for organization and time management.  Good time management and time organization requires honest self reflection.  We have to match up our strengths and weaknesses with the tools or organizational systems that work best for us.  We also have to be okay with a system that works best for us even if it doesn’t work for others.  I thought there was a great post on Lawyerist recently on this very topic.  The author, Randall Ryder, raised the excellent observation that the quest for organization can become a distraction in and of itself.  Some people are constantly implementing new systems in the quest for something better.  The end result is a hodgepodge of different organizational techniques and systems that leaves the person worst off than they were to begin with depsite pouring massive amounts of time into their quest.  Ryder’s advice matches the take away from our group discussion; you have to go with the organizational system that works best for you.

Mentor Externship Featured at equippingourlawyers.org

Published on: Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Mentor Externship is featured this month at equippingourlawyers.org.  Equippingourlawyers.org is a collaboration between the American Law Institute (ALI), the American Bar Association (ABA), and The Association for Continuing Legal Education (ACLEA).  The groups held a critical issues summit in 2009 entitled “Equipping Our Lawyers: Law School Education, Continuing Legal Education and Legal Practice in the 21st Century”.  After the summit the groups prepared a report with recommendations.  You can read the recommendations here. Mentor Externship is highlighted this month as a model for integrating experiential learning and mentoring into legal education.

UST Law named one of nation’s top law schools for externships

Published on: Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

The National Jurist has ranked the University of St. Thomas School of Law number one in the country for externship placements.  Thank you to all of the students and mentors whose enthusiasm and effort make Mentor Externship a success every year!