These techniques for making the most out of your mentor relationship are designed with three goals in mind: 1) providing you with the most knowledge and experience possible, 2) helping you stand out amongst your peers, and 3) ultimately, landing you the right type of job after law school. We all know the current economy and understand the difficulties of finding a job. The mentor program offers us unique opportunities to build both relationships and skills that can give us a head start in our career. We should capitalize on that to make ourselves stronger students and stronger future employees.
Developing a Map
The Personal and Professional Development Plan (PPDP) that every student completes with his/her mentor is a great guide to starting off your mentor relationship, but it need not encompass the entirety of the relationship. Think of the PPDP as a starting point: it provides some specific examples of experiences you want to see, as well as an overall objective/mission for what you want out of the mentor experience. As you go through the year, however, you should be at least mentally cultivating a more comprehensive map out of what you want from your mentor experience. For instance, let’s say that on your PPDP, you listed an arbitration and a mediation as two experiences you want this semester with your mentor. During the arbitration, one lawyer brings up a witness deposition. The idea of a witness deposition sparks an interest in you and you want to see one. After the arbitration, when you discuss or debrief the experience with your mentor, you can ask to see a deposition.
Utilizing your Mentor’s Network
Your mentor may or may not have a witness deposition on schedule in the near future. If not, you can always ask your mentor to ask colleagues if you may accompany them to a deposition. Mentors commonly make such requests of their colleagues, so be assured that this is a normal practice that does not violate the one-on-one relationship with your mentor.
Another great way to utilize your mentor’s job network is to make a good impression on your mentor’s colleagues. Get to know them, be friendly and interested in their work. Making a good impression makes you memorable, and that many more people will now know you, remember you, and hopefully recommend you.
Capitalize on Opportunities
Your mentor may have new experiences for you that were not originally on the plan: a recently scheduled motion or new client meeting, for example. Attend as many of these invitations as possible, even if they do not sound initially wow you or fit on your larger map. You never really know if the experience is interesting unless you give it a try, and by attending more experiences, you increase your knowledge of the lawyer’s role in general.
Another great reason to accept these invitations is that, by doing so, you express your enthusiasm for the many wonderful opportunities your mentor has to offer. By attending these experiences and showing this enthusiasm, you are more likely to receive more invitations in the future. If you cannot attend one of the events, explain to your mentor that you have a scheduling conflict and express your sincere gratitude for the invitation. This way, the mentor understands that you are interested next time an opportunity arises.
Just as the PPDP is a starting point for the experiences on your map, the program requirements are a starting point for how much you can do with the opportunities offered to you through the program. A lot of us, myself included, start off the mentor relationship looking to complete the minimum number of hours and the minimum number of experiences. When I started this year, however, my mentor asked me if I wanted to meet every other week. At first I was very apprehensive about this invitation because I thought that there was no way I could fit it into my schedule. I realized, however, that we would only be meeting once every two weeks for an hour or two at most, and this would allow me more exposure and experience.
I know that, as a 1L especially, the prospect of an extra two hour meeting every other week can seem somewhat daunting. But if you look at it from the standpoint that these two hours provide you real-world application to the concepts you are learning in your courses, then it is easy to see how the time can be beneficial and even give you an edge come exam time. During 2L and 3L years, you are still busy, but you have more flexibility and control over your schedule. Although 2L and 3Ls tend to be more involved in other activities, they should also realize the great opportunities of the real-world experience a mentor can provide. By spending more time with your mentor, you develop more trust and increase your professional exposure and skill set, and from there, who knows?
While these techniques may seem simple, they can go a long way towards building a great relationship with your mentor. By making the most out of your mentor relationship, you are not only making yourself a better student, you gain special knowledge and build key relationships that will help you achieve that final goal of attaining a job after graduation.