Trial & Error: How to be a good mentor

During my first year as an associate at McCarthy Tétrault, I benefited from a roster of fantastic mentors, and I’m sure I’ll continue to long into my career. But now that I’ve got a year of experience under my belt, It’s time to start paying it forward. And so, I’ve become a mentor myself. I take the job seriously, and I believe it’s my duty and a privilege to pass along what I’ve learned. 

Here are my top five tips for newly minted mentors:

  1. Recognize when you are mentor

Often associates don’t appreciate when they mentor more junior associates and students. For example, I’m not a formal mentor, so I didn’t recognize that I had stepped into an informal role until a student told me explicitly. While organic mentorship relationships are preferable, they can often be unrecognized. Appreciating that you are a mentor is the first step to being a good one.

  1. Make the time

The most important ingredient in the mentorship relationship is time. Even at my busiest, I always make time for a student who walks into my office. I also make an effort to seek out my mentees so they know that I am available to them. Making time can be as simple as inviting a mentee to a quick afternoon coffee, out for an after-work drink or to join you at a networking event.  

  1. Be candid

This is crucial to being a good mentor. I always try to be honest and forthright about my feedback and opinions. I’m also open about my own experience with career growing pains. Being candid allows me to share teachable moments. It also encourages mentees to be candid with me, which helps me better advise them and learn from them in return. Which brings me to my next point:

  1. Learn From Your Mentee

I learn as much (if not more) from my mentees as they do from me. As a mentor, I get to learn about their exciting cases and new developments in the law, and I gain insights into new ways of thinking about a problem. I think learning from a mentee is one of the most overlooked opportunities. They can observe you as an outsider and can provide a refreshing perspective on your practice.

  1. Offer Relevant Advice

Recognizing that mentorship is a two-way street, it’s important to look for ways to enhance other people’s development. For example, I often send a blackline copy of my changes to students along with an offer to discuss the changes in person. At the conclusion of a significant matter, I suggest a feedback coffee so that we can both learn from the experience. 

Atrisha Lewis is a second-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewis

Photo by Stephan Rosger