In my book, Make It Your Own Law Firm I write quite a lot about the importance and value mentors have been for me as a Miami medical malpractice lawyer and I credit them- not just for the success of my law practice but for my life. My current view on mentors has shifted and evolved since I graduated from the University of Miami School of Law twenty years ago. I believe every law student needs a mentor and the best that I have found are those that are not being paid or employed by me.
I realize that most law students cannot afford to hire or pay mentors or coaches. Therefore, law students will need to find mentors who are ready and willing to provide guidance for free.
Rule 1: Choosing the Right Law School Mentor
Before a law student chooses a mentor, it is important to understand the limitations of what mentors can or should do. Think of a mentor like a Sherpa helping one to climb Mt. Everest. A mistake I have made, regrettably more than a few times, is selecting, hiring, paying and listening to the mentor or Sherpa who himself has never climbed Mt. Everest, much less successfully brought a party home alive. In other words whether it is being a trial lawyer, probate attorney, criminal defense lawyer or florist, do not listen to one of the many “gurus” who have never actually gone to law school,graduated and successfully practice law in the specialty area of your choice. .
Rule 2: Don’t Get Addicted
Once you find this elusive Yoda, it is easy to become co-dependent. In other words, I have relied on others to make decisions that I did not want to make, such as where to apply for work, what area of law to practice, who to hire, how much to pay them or what tie to wear to a trial. It is easy to start to default by asking your mentor for help on every single decision. Try not to become so dependent that you are paralyzed from making any decisions on your own or going against your mentor’s advice.
Rule 3: Don’t Use Your Law School Mentor for Everything
Another mistake is thinking that your mentor for X can answer things for Y. I have mistakenly relied on a competent mentor in one area of my profession to guide me into another area for which he was not qualified or experienced to give advice. Much like asking your optometrist to do a rectal exam, there are special problems that require special knowledge and it is dangerous to rely on a single mentor to handle a variety of complex issues.
Rule 4: Don’t Sleep With Your Mentor
Don’t become friends with your mentor. What you need is objective guidance not a friend or romantic liaison. It is easy to fall into the “let’s meet for a drink after work because I have to discuss something with you” trap. And it may not be your fault. Your mentor might be lonely and flattered by the attention of a young and attractive law student. It is easy to fall into a trap where you might not only lose invaluable guidance, but cause yourself embarrassment and destroy your career before it even starts. As a law student you need objective and kind advice. Once you cross the line, even as friends with your mentor, she might be unwilling to tell you what she really feels for fear that she might offend or hurt you. Keep the relationship with your mentor on a professional level at all times.
Be very careful if you sense the smallest possibility that your mentor might have an ulterior motive or be vulnerable to your charm. Unfortunately, my experience has taught me that very, very few people I have met in my profession are generous with the time and guidance while expecting absolutely nothing in return.
Rule 5: Remember to Mentor Another Law Student
The last rule is what I call the circle of life, much like in the Disney movie. I feel the true obligation I have to repay the many mentors I have had in my life is by offering to guide and mentor others. As a Florida personal injury lawyer I wrote “Make It Your Own Law Firm” to help spare law students facing the prospect of graduating without a job the pain and rejection I suffered. You would be surprised how much you may have already learned that can help another in your chosen area of practice.