Mentoring Resource

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Mentoring is from the Greek word meaning steadfast or enduring and is defined as a sustained relationship, often in a career–oriented setting, between an experienced and trusted person who gives advice to another less–experienced person.

Through continued involvement, the mentor offers support, guidance, and assistance as the protégé (or mentee) faces new professional challenges, goes through a difficult experience, or works to remedy existing problems.

Within the legal profession this means a voluntary, mutually beneficial relationship of professional growth, career development, and personal fulfillment, which benefits other people beyond the direct relationship. "Other people" includes clients, the judicial system, the legal community, law partners, family members, and the community as a whole.

Introduction to Mentoring

The D.C. Bar Practice Management Advisory Service seeks to encourage professional mentoring relationships between experienced and less–experienced lawyers to facilitate the transfer of valuable information and insight into the practice of law.

While legal theory and application can be learned during law school, many aspects of the legal profession must be learned in the workplace, whether in private practice, government service, or corporate practice. The mentor is encouraged to share experiences and provide counsel to less–senior colleagues on such topics as professionalism, law practice management,and professional development, thereby becoming a trusted counselor, advisor, and teacher. From this personal relationship, marked by trust and confidentiality, the less experienced lawyers, or "proteges", can learn what is truly expected of them by lawyers, partners, judges, and experienced opponents in the adversary system.

There are two types of mentoring programs within a professional setting—natural and planned. Planned mentoring occurs within a structured environment or program in which voluntary participants are screened and matched through a formal application process. In contrast, natural mentoring occurs through friendship and collegiality—more of a self-selection process.

The PMSC created a pilot "planned mentoring" program several years ago, but the results strongly indicated Bar members preferred a natural approach to mentoring. Therefore, rather than attempt to play matchmaker, the PMSC has designed this web page to assist lawyers in the establishment of their own fulfilling mentor relationships.

Benefits of a Mentoring Relationship

For the Mentor

  • Shaping the future of the practice of law
  • Personal satisfaction
  • Giving back to the profession
  • Reviewing your own strengths and weaknesses
  • Learning from your protégé

For the Protégé

  • Having a person to turn to with a substantive, procedure, or ethics question
  • Learning about the business of practicing law
  • Increased productivity and performance
  • Enhanced reputation and professionalism
  • Objective feedback on skills
  • Increased career satisfaction

Tips on Finding a Mentor

In the past, mentors usually chose proteges to help them climb the corporate ladder. Today, proteges tend to be more independent, seeking out a mentor or mentors whom they believe can be a successful match for their future. In turn, the mentor also benefits from the insight and understanding from the protégé–more of a reciprocal mentoring experience.

Mismatches often make the best matches. Conventional wisdom once held that you and your mentor should have much in common to make for a successful relationship. However, the emerging thought in the new world of mentoring is to have a mentor with different skills and background to provide a refreshing and challenging learning experience rather than a confirmation of your existing knowledge.

Know what you want to accomplish in a mentoring relationship–career growth, lawyering skills, balancing work and life, enhanced professionalism, starting a practice, etc. Assess the contributions you can make to the mentoring relationship—what you have to offer the mentor. Define the reasons why someone would want to mentor you—why they should take the time to invest in your future. Share these at the appropriate time with your prospective mentor as you cultivate the relationship.

You may need several mentors throughout your legal career. Different lawyers have different knowledge and skills, just as you have differing needs over the course of your professional development. You may have several mentors at one time to help you with different aspects of practice, or you may have one primary mentor, with others who assist you on a less frequent basis.

Seek a person who is not in a supervisory relationship with you. Seek someone with whom you can have an open and honest dialogue without hesitation.

Do not be afraid to ask another lawyer to be your mentor. If you feel more comfortable, ask them to be a mentor for just one aspect of your practice, such as trial skills or client development.

Locating a Mentor

You may already have someone you occasionally contact to answer questions about case procedures or your practice. Consider asking that person to be your mentor.

Mentors are most often found through networking. Participate in professional activities to meet lawyers who may be willing to mentor. For D.C. Bar–sponsored activities, visit the online events calendar.

Spend some time in court to observe other lawyers. If you observe a lawyer exhibit skills or demeanor that you admire, contact the lawyer. Send a note or letter. Invite the lawyer to a business lunch (your treat) to discuss commonalities. If the first meeting works, ask to schedule another.

Scan, LinkedIn, Martindale–Hubbell, or, other social media, online lawyer listings to find biographical information about lawyers who may have experience and characteristics you are trying to find in a mentor. See if they have information on a personal or law firm web page. D.C. Bar members should consider joining the D.C. Bar’s Group on LinkedIn.

Join a voluntary bar association to find lawyers with similar interests or backgrounds.

Place an ad in your law school alumni newsletter. You need not give your name, but include some characteristics you are seeking in the mentor. Give only workplace contact information.

Traditional mentoring is one-on-one, but today small groups are often better able to meet the needs of lawyers. Consider forming a small group with one or two senior lawyers, several mid-career lawyers, and several lawyers in practice less than five years.

Suggested Protocols

  • The first few meetings should be initiated by the protegé, and scheduled as far in advance as possible to avoid conflicts. The mentor and the protegé should develop their own protocol for rescheduling meetings that are unavoidably postponed.
  • Trust is the foundation of every successful mentoring relationship. As with any personal relationship, it takes time to build trust. Trust is built through open and honest sharing of troubles, successes, and life experiences. The mentoring relationship is perpetuated by honoring that trust and keeping the shared information confidential.
  • Come to the meetings prepared. The protege should spend time before the meeting to consider questions he or she may have for the mentor. The mentor may also prepare for topics to be discussed.
  • Set realistic goals to accomplish. What do you hope to achieve or learn? Track progress at each meeting.
  • Stay in touch between meetings using the telephone and email.
  • The protegé should refrain from disclosing to the mentor any confidences or secrets of the protégé’s clients to which the duty of confidentiality applies, as set forth in Rule 1.6 of the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct. Any discussions between the mentor and protégé about substantive legal problems encountered by the protégé in the practice of law must always be on a hypothetical basis, to the extent those discussions relate to confidential client information under Rule 1.6.

Topics of Discussion

Discussions between mentors and protegés may focus on general issues related to the legal profession and the practice of law, such as:

  • Effective attorney/client communications
  • Professionalism and legal ethics
  • Law office management
  • Practice and career enhancement
  • Balancing careers with family and personal lives
  • Law practice transitions and alternatives

The discussions may address substantive legal problems, subject to the ethical obligations discussed in Suggested Protocol area above. Also, both participants must recognize that the mentor is prohibited from giving legal advice to the protegé’s clients, and that it is the protegé’s professional responsibility to make all decisions about representation of the protegé’s clients on the basis of preparation independent of any discussions with the mentor.

Possible Activities to Build the Mentoring Relationship

  • Attend a Supreme Court argument
  • Have lunch on a monthly basis
  • Attend a CLE program
  • Design and present a CLE program together
  • Attend D.C. Bar functions, such as the annual dinner or golf tournament
  • Tour the courthouse
  • Invite one other lawyer to join you for breakfast to introduce to your mentor or protégé

What to Expect

  • That it takes time to build a relationship of trust and respect; give the relationship a chance to form over the course of several or more meetings.
  • Communicate early to try to understand expectations of both mentor and protégé.
  • Mentoring is not designed to be a substitute for continuing legal education or to provide job hunting opportunities or client referrals for new lawyers, but to foster the highest ideals of the profession.
  • If the mentoring is not of value to either the mentor or protégé, take the initiative to discuss it. Better to resolve the matter and end the relationship on a positive basis. Don’t be afraid to try another mentor.
  • Don’t expect the mentor to have all the answers. Mentors guide from experience and share that wisdom with the protégé. Guidance to an answer rather than giving the answer is far more beneficial.


The D.C. Bar legal ethics counsel are available to assist all participants in the program on questions about confidentiality of communications and the avoidance of conflicts of interest that might arise during the mentoring relationship.

For further information about mentoring, please contact the Practice Management Advisory Service at 202-780-2762 or 202-780-2764 and consider attending a session of Basic Training if you are interested in learning more about how a solo or small firm functions and in networking with other lawyers.

Additional Resources

The Lawyer’s Guide to Mentoring
By Ida O. Abbott

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