The University of St. Thomas

Dave Bateson – Director

Who do you want to know today?

Published on: Thursday, September 9th, 2010

I recall a marketing campaign several years ago that asked the question “Where you want to go today?”  My next tip on getting the most out of your mentor relationship for both mentors and protégés asks the related question, “Who do you want to know today?”

I have blogged before about the concept that no mentor can be all things to all protégés.  It is unfair for the protégé to expect that level of perfection from the mentor.  However, great mentors do listen carefully to what their protégés are looking for in the relationship and great mentors help the protégé connect with another lawyer who can meet the need when it is not one of their own strengths.  In other words, one part of being a great mentor is asking the protégé, “Who do you want to know today?”

This can play itself out in different ways.  A protégé may have an interest in a particular experience or in an area of law that the mentor cannot provide.  Each of us has a network of colleagues and friends practicing in different areas of law that we can tap into to help our protégés.  Sometimes the most helpful thing you are doing for a protégé is not related to a specific piece of knowledge that you can share but is helping connect the protégé to another person who can be a resource.

Sometimes a protégé is looking to get to know more people in the community.  New lawyers often are told to network.  Mentors can help with introductions to their friends and colleagues. It may be that your protégé is looking to make contacts in a different city and the mentor can help build a bridge to get there.  There are lots of ways mentors help their protégés just by making introductions.

I encourage mentors and protégés to ask themselves about the additional connections that might be helpful for a great mentor experience this year.  If you are a protégé preparing for your first meeting consider asking your mentor if she has specific colleagues or connections she recommends that you get to know.  On the mentoring end of things consider whether you know of specific people that your protégé could benefit from being introduced.  Give some thought to how you could facilitate the introduction.  That is not in any way to diminish the amount of energy and time that you plan to invest in the mentor relationship for the year but it does open new possibilities for your protégé. Consider it a great way to supplement the good you are already doing in your time with the protégé.

Pathways to “Good Lawyering”

Published on: Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

A few weeks ago Ronda Muir had a post on her Law People blog about how to judge good lawyering.  You can read the entire post here.  Muir identifies two key factors in good lawyering: 1) outcome and 2) interpersonal interaction.  She argues that because of the many factors involved in a legal case it can be difficult to assess whether the outcome was related to the quality of the lawyering or some other factor.  Instead she focuses on interpersonal skills as the best way to evaluate lawyers noting that “the most common basis for evaluating legal counsel is their interpersonal skills.”  She cites a study finding that personality issues were one of four main reasons general counsel fired their outside counsel.  Muir attributes this to the tendency for lawyers to be arrogant and to be poor listeners.

Muir’s contentions are interesting especially in light of the difficult job climate out there.  New lawyers are having a harder time finding jobs and employers have shorter timelines for evaluating their hires.  For a new lawyer, improving relationship skills is a way to stand out.  The themes of our Mentor Externship classroom component are “understanding key relationships in the law” and “excellence in relationship skills as a pathway to success.”  As I previously blogged, relationship skills seem elementary or obvious to people and it can be difficult to get students engaged on these topics.  Muir’s article provides some practical foundation for why we have chosen the class topics that we have.

I hope students are also investing time in observing their mentors’ interpersonal interactions.  Whether it is the interaction their mentors have with opposing counsel, with the court, or the opportunities to sit-in on client meetings, students have an excellent opportunity to observe great lawyers using these interpersonal skills and maybe pickup some practical wisdom on how they can improve for themselves.

What do you think?  I would love some examples of how great interpersonal skills have given you the opportunity for advancement.

What is Balance?

Published on: Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

One of our graduates, Monica Geyen, recently blogged about work-life balance at JD’s Rising. You can read her thoughts here.  In her blog Monica hits upon a key concept that I believe in strongly.  That concept is replacing work life balance discussions with a focus on whether you are living in alignment with your values.

The work-life balance debate always fascinates me because I think it implies the quest for an equilibrium that does not exist.  I also think that discussions of work-life balance imply there is an objective standard one looks to determine if you are living a healthy life or not.

I prefer to replace “work-life balance” with “living in alignment with your values” because each of us derives meaning and fulfillment from different parts of our lives in different ways.  I recently had coffee with a woman that said that although she is working roughly eighty hours a week she absolutely loves what she is doing and could not be happier.  Some people may look at that lifestyle and say the woman is “out of balance.”  From my perspective, however, this woman is working in a job providing help to people who need it and is deriving enormous satisfaction and contentment from doing so.  It sounds like she is living in complete alignment with her values.  She talked about how many of her professional relationships are also friendships and how she feels that she gives time to all the things that are important to her.  It seems mistaken to me to say there is something wrong where she is using her time simply because it looks different than how I may use my time.

It seems to me that Monica’s advice is sound.  Take a moment to reflect on where you are spending your time.  Is where you spend your time fulfilling?  Are you neglecting key relationships in your life?  Answer those questions for yourself rather than judging them by how someone else answers the same questions.  If you are living in alignment with your own values then what everyone else is doing really shouldn’t matter.

It’s Your Career

Published on: Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

UST Law just wrapped up orientation week for our first year law students.  As part of orientation week we had a panel of speakers present on the benefits of Mentor Externship.  I want to focus on a comment from one of our panelists, UST graduate Chris Wheaton. 

Chris was so effective in maximizing both the learning and networking opportunities for mentor externship that I invited him to share his strategies with our new students.  I thought Chris’ best piece of advice was that students need to “own” their mentor program experience.  Specifically, he cautioned students against sitting back passively and hoping that their mentors would simply know what experiences to show the student.  Chris encouraged students to communicate regularly and really help direct the mentor relationship so that their mentors know what they are hoping to get learn this year.  Owning his law school mentor experience helped Chris not only identify the area of law in which he wanted to practice but also helped him build his own practice so that he was ready to open a law firm when he graduated.

One of my mentors used to share similar advice with all the new lawyers in our law firm.  This colleague was known for encouraging and mentoring new lawyers but never forcing them to take advantage of the opportunities he was offering.  When a new lawyer would question whether it was worth the investment of time to go to some networking event or to try something new this mentor would say, “Well, you have to do what you want. It’s your career.  I’ve already built my career.”

Whether it is in your mentor relationships or in your career in general we all have to take ownership of getting the experience and opportunities we want.  It is tempting to sit back and complain that another colleague got better opportunities than you did.  We forget that many of those people made their own luck.  If we want different opportunities we need to work for them.  In the end, it is our career.  We need to make things happen.  Part of generating those opportunities is engaging our entire constellation of mentors.  How often do you tell all of your mentors what new experience or opportunity you are looking for?

More Thoughts on Being a Great Mentor

Published on: Friday, August 27th, 2010

One of the challenges to being a great mentor is thinking of experiences to show your protégé.  A frequent comment I get from mentors is that they are happy to participate and enjoy being a mentor but wonder if they have anything interesting to show a student.  My next tip is that for a new lawyer or student, everything can be interesting.  Show students all the different things that you do in your practice even if they seem “ordinary” to you.  That seems obvious, but we often forget about huge chunks of our legal practice because they seem elementary or even boring to us.  That can lead to the mistaken assumption that a student would not want to see that part of our practice.  However, if you put yourself in a student’s shoes none of the routine or ordinary for us as practicing lawyers is routine or ordinary for them. 

Answering discovery may seem like a run of the mill task to a season litigator, but for a student it can be very interesting to see an actual set of interrogatories or the answers to those interrogatories when all they have seen before is the rules of civil procedure.  Similarly, a transactional attorney might see a number of different contracts as ordinary or boiler plate.  For a student interested in transactional work, though, it can be a great experience to review one of those “ordinary” contracts and then sit down with the mentor to discuss why those contracts are drafted the way that they are.  

Those same concepts can apply to the day-to-day workings of a law firm. It can be very helpful for a student to sit in on a practice group meeting or understand how a firm performs its conflict checks.  Again, those types of tasks quickly become ordinary for a practicing lawyer but are essential concepts for new lawyers to understand. 

So, as we kick off the year in mentor externship and you are wondering what to do with your student, I urge you not to forget the “ordinary.”  Those experiences can be some of the best that a student can have.

A UST Alumnus Shares His Tips for Marketing

Published on: Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Another of our graduates, Graham Martin, has a written guest post on Lawyerist. Graham shares some of thoughts on practical advice for marketing.  Given the blog posts about marketing here and on JDs Rising  it was nice to see a UST graduate sharing some tips with other lawyers.

Thoughts On How To Be A Great Mentor

Published on: Friday, August 20th, 2010

As we get ready to kick-off another year of mentor externship I am preparing our annual mentor training session.  Every year we offer voluntary training for our mentors on mentoring in the legal profession.  So over the next few weeks I am going to use the blog to share some thoughts how to be a great mentor. 

Here is one initial thought to get the ball rolling.  I think that being a great mentor begins with understanding three basic mentoring functions: career mentoring, psychosocial mentoring, and professionalism mentoring.

Career mentoring is the concept that mentors help their protégés develop key skills, knowledge and opportunities to excel in their careers.  Career mentoring may involve sharing the unwritten rules of the legal profession, it may involve helping the protégé with specific skill development like legal writing, allowing a student to observe a deposition or court appearance and then explaining how to perform each of those activities with excellence, or helping the student network and connect with key members of a profession.

Psychosocial mentoring helps the protégé develop the psychological and emotional confidence to excel in the profession.  Psychosocial mentoring may involve helping the protégé through a difficult time, congratulating them on their successes, and commiserating with them about their mistakes. 

Finally, the professionalism function, which we view as unique to the legal profession, identifies how mentors help protégés develop the professional identity and values of a lawyer.  It is a combination of role modeling great behavior, counseling the protégé about our professional values and ideals, and helping them understand “gold standard” professional behavior in the context of what lawyers actually do. 

Once a mentor understands the key three mentoring functions then the next step is honest and candid self-assessment about which of those functions the mentor can best offer the protégé.  We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses.  No one mentor is likely to be excellent at all three mentoring functions.  In reality most protégés understand that and only expect mentors to give what they can.  So as a mentor, give some thought to which of the mentoring functions you are ready and able to provide and communicate honestly and clearly with your protégé.

Check back in the coming weeks for more thoughts on being a great mentor.

Mentor Externship featured in St. Thomas Lawyer Magazine

Published on: Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

St. Thomas Lawyer magazine recentlypublished its summer of 2010 edition.  The edition features several articles on different aspects of the University of St. Thomas Mentor Externship.  You can read an electronic copy of St. Thomas Lawyer here.

Congratulations to Alumna Maggie Green

Published on: Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

One of our graduates, Maggie Green, has a great guest post today on Lawyerist about building your own practice.  Maggie offers some great advice including finding mentors and getting their help.  You can read her full post here.

Communication Tools

Published on: Thursday, July 15th, 2010

I read a good blog post on Lawyerist about communication skills for lawyers.  The article highlights some “traditional” communication skills, like phone calls, snail mail, and face to face meetings, that lawyers sometimes forget or forsake in favor of e-mail or other social media communications.

This post struck a chord with me because communication challenges are one of the biggest issues I confront working with students and mentors in our program.  There seems to be some disconnect between how students prefer to communicate and how mentors prefer to communicate.  Students often seem to prefer e-mail while mentors often seem to prefer phone.  This difference is hinted at in the comments to the original Lawyerist post.

I have already posted once about communications challenges so I do not want to simply repeat those points.  The Lawyerist post and the comments gave me a new perspective on this issue and maybe a new way to think about it.  I agree with the comment that some in the profession can be too dismissive of communication from social media or other new technology.  I think that these tools do have a lot to offer and by extension, newer lawyers with greater proficiency with these tools have a lot to teach us.  On the other hand, I also think that new lawyers can fall into the trap of convenience and become overly reliant on these technologies.  Because social media and e-mail are convenient, newer lawyers lose their comfort with more direct interpersonal communication like phone or face to face meetings.

Not every communication requires the same tools, nor is every relationship the same.  Perhaps  lawyers should think of e-mail, social media and other technologies as supplements to traditional communications rather than replacements.  We should be taking advantage of how social media and e-mail can improve the client relationship, mentor relationships, or other professional activities while acknowledging that those tools cannot replace the essential interpersonal communication skills lawyers must have.  In other words, think of all your communications options as tools in a tool box and for each piece of communication think about which of the tools is the best fit, not necessarily the easiest to grab.  If you don’t have the right tools for each job you are unlikely to do the job the well.  As the old saying goes, “if all you have is a hammer than everything starts to look like a nail.”  If you rely too heavily on e-mail and social media then you miss the chance for deeper and better relationships at a minimum and perhaps contribute to a decline in the relationship at the maximum.