Informal mentoring relationships lead to a greater value for young lawyers and law students

December 17, 2012

summer associatesThis post was written by Mark Korf, director of business development and new lawyer training, Large Law Firm segment

Mentoring between seasoned lawyers and those new to the profession has always played a prominent role in the legal profession and the professional development of young lawyers. Dating back to the early days when individuals became lawyers through apprenticeships, lawyers sought the advice and guidance of other practitioners to better understand the practice of law and their role in the profession. This may include competencies in client service and development, law practice management, specific substantive areas of law, legal skills and business skills.

Traditionally, mentoring relationships have been a formal 1:1 relationship, consisting of relationships that are ‘arranged’ with a pre-determined frequency of meetings for a set period of time. While such relationships play a vital role, they do have their challenges.

In today’s practice, no one person can be a single source of guidance and advice for a law student or young lawyer. The needs of these mentees are too diverse. Therefore, a network of mentoring relationships is critical to the development of a young lawyer.  These informal mentoring relationships provide a tremendous complement to existing formal mentoring relationships.

Underwritten by Thomson Reuters, the NALP Foundation recently completed a survey, to be published in early 2013, on mentoring in our legal profession, surveying lawyers, law firms, bar associations, law schools and law students. The results are extremely enlightening – especially the data regarding informal mentoring relationships.

Of the 2,092 law students surveyed, 44% participate in a law school mentoring program. For those participating in a mentoring program:

-61% have two or more mentors
-78% receive mentoring from an informal relationship
-84% rated the informal mentoring relationship a 4 or 5, on a five-point scale, while only 62% rated a formal relationship as a 4 or 5 (with 5 extremely beneficial).

The data for lawyers is similar. Of the 1,171 lawyers surveyed, 69% participate in a mentoring program as a mentee or protégé. For those participating in a mentoring program:

-69% have two or more mentors
-77% receive mentoring from an informal relationship
-95% rated the informal mentoring relationship a 4 or 5, on a five-point scale, while only 63% rated a formal relationship as a 4 or 5 (with 5 extremely beneficial).

The takeaway: lawyers and law students are more likely to have multiple mentors, and more likely to participate in informal mentoring relationships – which they see as more beneficial than formal mentoring relationships.

While formal mentoring programs play a very important role in the development of a young lawyer, informal relationships help to meet the varied needs of young lawyers and their development.

How is your organization delivering mentoring opportunities to your young lawyers? How are you encouraging and supporting their pursuit of informal relationships? What type of training or resources do you provide young lawyers to facilitate their development of informal relationships?