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INSIGHT: Leveraging a Mentorship—Tips for Millennial Lawyers, by Millennial Women Lawyers

Sept. 16, 2019, 8:00 AM

In our first Insight article, we explored how millennial attorneys can find mentors and sponsors, which are key relationships to a young lawyer’s success. To recap, women and people of color report a variety of challenges even in progressive workplaces.

Therefore, to find a mentor, we need to speak up and actively seek out mentorship and sponsorship relationships—use formal mentorship programs but, focus on opportunities to develop organic relationships with willing mentors and sponsors outside of formalized programs.

Now that you have found a willing mentor or sponsor, how do you utilize such a valuable relationship? Below, we discuss some tips and experiences to guide the way.

#NowWhat?

Jewel: “A discussion regarding how to utilize a mentor or sponsor requires us to go back to one of the first points we made in our first Insight article—mentors and sponsors serve different purposes.”

“Let’s focus on mentors first. A mentor is someone who can teach or coach to aid in your development. She/he can be a lawyer who is senior to you or a peer who has a skill or a demonstrated mastery in an area you would like to grow in. A mentor can provide advice about how to have difficult conversations or how to navigate your career. A mentor is someone you can bounce ideas off of, or someone who can help you find a mentor for another stage in your journey.”

“A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a mentor who has become a friend (that is likely to happen as the relationship develops). In addition to the time spent catching up and sharing information concerning each of our respective accomplishments since we last spoke, I sought her help with identifying another mentor to help me navigate my in-house journey.”

Jennifer: “Mentors found outside of your organization can also be helpful if you need a fresh perspective that is unencumbered by office politics. When I was about to go out on a 24-week maternity leave, which happened to fall during the first year of my partnership window, I sought guidance from a partner at another law firm with whom I co-chaired a committee in a professional organization. She gave me advice to help me navigate a time of significant transition in my life. My internal mentors and sponsors did that too, but it was helpful to have a perspective from outside of my organization.”

“Sponsors are typically found within your organization, and their function is different. A sponsor has the power to propel your career. As we discussed in our first Insight article, sponsorship requires greater commitment than mentorship in that it requires expenditure of political capital, and a sponsor will be willing to spend that capital on you only if they know you are equally or more committed to your development.”

“Assuming you’ve gotten there and your sponsor knows you’re all in, start having discussions about your career earlier than forced deadlines would require. For example, don’t save those discussions for review time, or for when you have to select your partnership window (in the case of a law firm). And, assuming you have developed an appropriate level of trust, those discussions may also include your career aspirations outside of your current organization.”

Jewel: “Exactly. ‘All in’ as an associate at a law firm does not have to mean that your ultimate goal is to become a partner at a law firm. You have to define what ‘all in’ means for you. I remember when it became pretty clear that ‘all in’ did not include a desire to become a law firm partner, and I shared that with several mentors—how I had defined ‘all in’ for myself.”

“They all had advice to share about my next steps. One mentor in particular sat me down and asked: ‘Jewel, what do you want to do next? Do you want to be a judge? Do you want to go in-house? Do you want to go to the governor’s office or a nonprofit?’ I remember being flattered that I was perceived as someone who could be a judge. That conversation gave me the confidence to think big, but more importantly, my mentor (turned sponsor) used her capital to help me make connections to expand my career opportunities.”

#AMessageToOurSponsors

What advice would you give to willing mentors and sponsors?

Jennifer: “Willing mentors and sponsors need to be committed to more than just advancing women in the legal profession—we need to be committed to advancing all types of women. And that needle has further to go. We need to resist the urge to mentor only women who remind us of ourselves, and instead ensure that attorneys of all races, sexual orientations, and gender identities have access to quality mentors and sponsors. If you believe that you’re already sponsoring one or more individuals, why not take a look at your list of proteges and ask yourself whether any of them are different from you in some discernible way. Also, do their skills complement, rather than replicate, yours?”

Jewel: “I agree with that wholeheartedly. Also, I urge would-be mentors and sponsors to meet less seasoned attorneys halfway. If you have the ability to mentor, join your organization’s Women’s Initiative, and be as active as your time permits. Invite a young attorney to have coffee. Get to know the attorneys on your team. Build real relationships and create an opening for them to come to you when they need support or guidance. Think of mentoring as an investment, and as part of your legal legacy. The cases you work on might be forgotten, but the leaders you develop will forever remember you as someone who made a difference.”

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

Author Information

Jennifer Fiorica Delgado is a partner in Lowenstein Sandlers’ Capital Markets Litigation group and was named one of Crain’s 2019 Notable Women in Law—New York. She also co-heads the firm’s recruiting committee and is an active mentor to young lawyers at the firm.

Jewel McGowan Watson is a director, corporate counsel, in the Prudential Insurance Company of America’s Enterprise Litigation Group where she manages litigation impacting the company and advises business leaders on mitigating legal risk. She currently serves as co-chair of the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association’s In-House Counsel Committee.