The secret life of a mentor

hoto:  Liz, Ada and Olga having breakfast at my house.

hoto:  Liz, Ada and Olga having breakfast at my house.

"Hi, I heard from so and so that you would be a good person to talk to about (fill in the blank with something about the pracitce of law).  Do you have time to talk to me."

Regardless if I do or don't, I never say no.  And always do it in person.

Whether it is a 7:30 am breakfast at CJ's, lunch, or a visit to the office, when young people seek me out personally to ask for advice or input, I believe eyeball to eyeball is the best way to meet.

Over the years I've probably done this a hundred times.  At least.

It started when I was part of the University of Washington mentor program in the 1990s.  It was interesting when they asked, because I was an not an alumni of the law school though I went there as an undergrad.  The first person I mentored didn't even want to be a personal injury lawyer.  But she was female and Asian and based upon that we were matched.  In retrospect, the forced matching didn't really work all that well.  To truly mentor, there needs to be a connection that's based on more than demographics.

The mentoring kicked into higher gear after I became a trial lawyer of the year and president of the trial lawyer association.  That's when I invented the early morning breakfast routine.  That way I never had to say no.  Many people met me at 7:00 or 7:30 at The Shanty for blueberry pancakes with fake butter and sugar syrup.

As many guys as gals seek me out.  Most are either in law school or recent graduates. Some are still in college.  Some have been out practicing in other fields and want to change directions.  There are defense lawyers, those who had taken a break usually to have children and looking to re-enter, children of lawyers who know me, friends of my children, out of towners, and those who have taken classes that I taught at the U of W.

Here are some secret and not so secret tips for being a good mentor.

  • The first time you connect, aways meet in person
  • Do not spend the whole time talking about yourself or telling stories
  • Don't be a mentor unless it can be about more than you
  • Don't try to match yourself to someone who simply looks and acts like you
  • Make sure you have something in common before you meet
    • Ask a lot of questions
    • Why they wanted to become a lawyer
    • What their strengths are
    • What their challenges are
    • What they are hoping for
    • What are they worried about
  • Listen to their answers
  • Give thoughtful, caring input
  • Input doesn't mean act like a know it all
  • Input doesn't mean tell them what to do
  • Sometimes the best input after they answer a question, is to ask another one
  • Humor is good
  • Let them ask you questions then answer all of them if you can.
  • If you are not genuinely interested, then don't do it
  • Don't wait until you have time.  You have to make time.
  • Don't expect to get anything back (but you will)
  • Always pay for the meal
  • Share your less than perfect self - let them see that you are human
  • Do not judge them - your job is to be a sounding board and an encourager
  • You already are an inspiration to them.  That's why they sought you out.  No need to do any additional puffery.
  • Listen to the good, bad, and ugly stories they have to share about things like how they are being treated by their bosses (all of whom you know); then don't ever repeat them
  • Cloak what they say with full confidentiality
  • For every bad thing they share; share a bad thing that you've gone through and are better for
  • Refer cases to them
  • Feel free to blur the professional  lines by inviting them into your real life
  • Introduce them to others who can be friends or professional connections
  • Let them talk to your kids
  • Let them be mauled by Nala