By Joe Longfellow, Esq., Andrews, Crabtree, Knox & Longfellow; member, Student Education and Admission to the Bar Committee
There are likely two questions everyone will ask themselves when discussing mentorship —whether a more experienced attorney being told why they need to mentor someone or a young attorney trying to figure out how to get a mentor(s):
Why does it even matter? And how do I even find one?
Mentorship is not something new. It’s been around since the dawn of time. Whether realized or not, those who have been practicing law for several years have had mentors. Some have likely been phenomenal and others not so much. Not all mentors are alike and not all mentors are good for everyone.
We need more mentors in our lives and in our industry because mentorship matters. The future generations in our industry and society itself rely upon the next generation of attorneys. Attorneys are vital to the preservation of our legal system and upholding our Constitution and legal rights. The future demands and expects the next generation to be prepared to handle the legal issues that will land on their desks. The next generation must be able to lead law firms; start up new firms; develop business; develop and implement new technology; be human, and balance work, family, friends, and life outside of the law. These are but a few of the areas where a mentor can offer invaluable support, wisdom, and experience that many young attorneys yearn for, need, and desire.
Mentorship is not some mystical experience that is incomprehensible, difficult to articulate, or unattainable. It is not something set aside for only a few, or the elite. Anyone can be a mentor if they are willing to give some time, advice, and effort. It is simple. It does not require recreating yourself or a “mini me.” As Steven Spielberg simply stated, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” This is what real mentoring is all about.
When I think of examples of mentoring in my own career and life, I think of two people, Bob Crabtree and Mike Haire. Bob is one of my mentors and now a law firm partner of mine. I started with my firm right out of law school after taking the bar exam. From the beginning, he took an interest not only in my development as an attorney but also my development as a human being, a father, and a husband. He invited me to lunch daily, introduced me to clients and friends, and even invited me to purchase football tickets with him. He took an interest in my life, and what was important to me. He offered ideas, recommendations, and counsel, but never forced it upon me. He provided me with examples of what I could choose to become and provided me with opportunities to become what I desired.
I remember early in my career, when we were working together on a case and discovery was coming to an end, I wanted to move for summary judgment. I had this unconquerable belief that we were entitled to it under the rules and case law. However, he was not as confident as I was that it would be granted. He was not sure it would be worth the time or effort because he thought the judge would likely deny it.
Nevertheless, he told me to go ahead and do it. It would be mine to argue and to win, but he did not leave me on my own to prepare and argue it. I drafted the motion, he revised and edited it, and it was filed. The hearing came and I argued the motion. To his surprise and my excitement, the motion was granted. The confidence he instilled in me as a lawyer and my idea empowered me and showed me what I could accomplish. He didn’t shut me down and tell me I couldn’t do it. He provided me an opportunity. An opportunity that I built upon and used as stepping a stone in my career. To some, this may not seem like a big deal, but to me it was everything at a time when I, like every young attorney, was trying to find my place and learning how to be a lawyer. This is why mentoring matters. This is why everyone needs a Bob Crabtree in their careers and life.
So, one might ask…how do I find my Bob Crabtree? When I was a younger attorney, developing mentor relationships was a frightening idea. There was some talk of it in law school but there was not a lot of emphasis placed on it. So, when I entered the practice of law, I was not exactly sure how to approach it. I wasn’t sure if it was a scenario where you ask someone to be your mentor, or if it was something that just happened. I also wasn’t sure where you find one.
To my surprise, over my career, a lot of my mentors have found me. This is not always the case. Sometimes, you must find them. When I have been looking for a mentor to assist me in a specific area, I have turned to local bar meetings, voluntary bar organizations and committees or organizations where I volunteer. I have attended these events with the idea of meeting new people and seeking out people who embodied something I admired, whether it be leadership skills, legal skills, or life skills.
All it takes is opening your mouth and introducing yourself. You will be surprised where a simple “Hello, my name is ____” will take you. When I was in law school, I introduced myself to a young attorney named Mike Haire. He was confident, well-spoken, and accomplished. He was a trial attorney and exactly on track to be what I wanted to be. He had qualities and experience that I wanted. So, I opened my mouth and introduced myself. As a result, a friendship and a mentorship developed, but more importantly, it led to my only job as a lawyer and to working with my mentor, Bob Crabtree.
However, because of the work of Florida Bar President Gary Lesser and the work of those at The Florida Bar and members of the Florida Bar, it soon will not be that hard to find or be a mentor. This summer we will have the opportunity to sign up to be a mentor or find a mentor through the Bar’s new mentoring program. The Bar has created a page for potential mentors and mentees to sign up to be notified when the program gets underway. This is going to be a great benefit to the members of the Bar and to the public because mentoring matters.