There is nothing more risk-laden than charting a novel course without the tutelage and guidance of those who have gone before. The beginner needs guidance to succeed and this, he can get, through effective mentorship. The legal profession thrives on mentorship and the young lawyer desirous of a sterling legal career should tap into the mentorship model.
YC Maikyau with young lawyers
Mentorship, simply put, is the process whereby an experienced professional helps a less experienced colleague with advice and career-related support and opportunities. Mentorship is undeniably key to building a successful practice. Be it medicine, engineering or midwifery, a rookie would benefit greatly from the guidance of those who have travelled the path before him. While graduating from law school, acing the bar exams, and securing your first job in your law firm of choice are great milestones, quite often the learning has only just begun. The young lawyer needs to learn and master elements and skills that do not form part of the law school curriculum. That is where mentors come in. Much has been said about the trailblazing revolution led by the sage, Chief Chris Ogunbanjo, whose giant strides changed the dynamics of corporate and commercial law practice in Nigeria. Legend also has it that Chief’s illustrious career was the light unto the budding careers of greats like Asue Ighodalo, George Etomi, Udoma Udo Udoma, Nyong Etuk, among others. The legends are true as all the lawyers who cut their teeth under the sage have all gone on to become some of the finest transactional lawyers the country has ever seen.
The ideal mentor is that seasoned professional who is excellent at observing his mentees and identifying their strengths and weakness. A good mentor is equally gifted with the art of counselling and an uncanny ability to show the mentee the way while influencing him to do that which is expedient and necessary for growth. However, while recognizing the importance of mentorship is one thing, maintaining the mentor-mentee relationship for optimal result is another. The mentee must understand that the mentor is neither a caregiver nor a surrogate parent and as such won’t assume direct responsibility for the mentee’s personal or professional development. This remains the responsibility of the young lawyer alone. At best, the mentor serves as a chaperon, a guide, upon whose lead the young lawyer picks his steps. Professional guidance from a more experienced mentor makes the difference.
Getting it right
To make the best out of the mentoring experience, the mentee must endeavour to drive, stimulate, and fuel the relationship. Frankly speaking, it is not the responsibility of the mentor to ‘run’ after the mentee. If there should be any running after, it should be the other way round.
The mentee must be willing to invest greatly in the relationship. Relationships, whether mentormentee or lawyer-client are like plants. They must be watered regularly, or else, they die of circumstantial thirst and wither with time. In clearer language, mentorship is not a one-way traffic or a one-off transaction. The mentee must value the time and energy that the mentor has devoted to the relationship through thoughtful and creative gestures of appreciation. This could also be in the form of providing value to the mentor in many ways.
Another important rule is that the mentee must communicate effectively with the mentor by providing updates on his development and sharing his pain points. This works in two ways. First, the mentor feels appreciated for being an instrument of progress. It also opens the eyes of the mentor to the work that needs to be done. In the same vein, the mentee can periodically assess his or her growth over the course of the mentorship experience. So, if you find a more experienced colleague(s) with whom you share similar values and who is willing to guide you through the law, my advice is that you hold on to them. Do not hold back from reaching out or holding that first conversation. The world may forgive you for dropping the ball after you took that shot but never for not trying at all. When deftly executed, mentorship works to transform an exciting prospect into an accomplished professional. Through mentorship, the young lawyer can draw from the expertise of the mentor to excel at his own practice. The mentee draws from the confidence of the mentor and can stand tall and address clients’ needs with boldness—a trait which has been identified as a must-have for every lawyer.
Through mentorship, a rookie who is unclear as to which specialty to tow may find clarity from the advice of a senior. It is also normal for the mentor to introduce the mentee to opportunities which often help to shape the experience and specialization of the mentee.
In conclusion, mentorship is no doubt a rewarding affair. Finding the right mentor is often the turnaround wand. A young lawyer can find the right mentor within or outside the NBA or within the different sections, fora or special-interest communities within the NBA. Other communities like fora for young lawyers, and associations of professionals from other fields could be home to the mentor of choice, and in most cases, the perfect mentor may be no other than your direct supervisor within your organization. Whichever choice you make, you are well on your way to an impressive legal career.