If you really think about the “sink or swim” philosophy, you’ll find it’s not only outdated but it’s also ridiculous. In the workplace, do firms really benefit from giving employees two choices: either resounding success or utter failure?
In business, it pays to let people make mistakes. And, if you establish a mentorship program, it’s likely your firm will gradually see less and less of them.
With proper training, your employees can learn to communicate and cope–with confidence–during moments of both success and failure. Not to mention that, in the future, your firm will gain good leaders and good lawyers.
Here’s how you start.
Establish a formal system
Although this may seem intuitive, the first step to training your youngest associates is to establish a formal system for mentorship within your law firm. More often than not, mentorship programs in the office are de facto—where a junior attorney has come to appreciate and admire a more senior one.
Use these informal relationships to guide mentor-mentee pairings within your formal mentorship program. But, make sure both parties are aware of the position’s requirements. Dedicate at least one day to dolling out responsibilities that are clear, concise, and mandatory.
Your mentorship program may involve bi-weekly meetings. Or, perhaps employees meet about a specific work product once a day. Whatever your system, it should be organized, written down, and implemented with high expectations and complete transparency.
Create a feedback-rich culture
In the same way that mentorship programs should be formalized and recognized by law firm partners, these programs should also emphasize communication.
“The most successful organizations are defined by a feedback-rich culture; that is, communication is inherent in the culture and there are systems to support it,” writes The Complete Lawyer.
“Employees feel they know what’s going on and, more importantly, how they are doing because their supervisors tell them on a daily basis. That way, nothing in a performance evaluation comes as a surprise.”
This feedback should not flow top-down. Instead, keep communication channels open on a lateral level. This means criticism from senior attorneys reach the ears of their junior mentees. However, this also means junior attorneys should feel comfortable suggesting ways their senior mentor can include legal writing, litigation, or other real-world experiences needed to round-out his or her professional repertoire.
Successful teams talk amongst themselves freely and equally. Leaders listen to their followers. Mentorship is no exception.
Provide measures for success
It’s not enough to implement a mentorship program. Your firm should also create goals and measures for success when these goals are met.
For example, if your primary goal for this program is to increase the trial experience of your young litigants, the measure for success should track number of courtroom hours, speaking time, and trial wins.
Measures for success should include increased happiness on the part of both people. Senior attorneys should have confidence in the work product of junior ones. And, junior attorneys should feel like their ideas are given due consuderation.
“Getting the work done yourself is the right answer on any individual day, but when you string a bunch of days together, it is a terrible solution. That’s why leadership needs to provide the long view,” concludes writes The Complete Lawyer.
Mentorship programs are essentially lessons on teamwork. Not only should each employee add value, but each employee should also feel valued, as well. Keep in mind that these programs should be designed to train future leaders as much as future lawyers.
A little bit of leadership training through mentorship programs can benefit firms in a big way by shortening employee learning curves, making billable hours more productive, and creating happier associates.
“Once your firm understands the actual cost of turnover, retention is reason enough for good mentoring.”
For more information, attend C4CM’s course, “Integrating Legal Mentoring With Law Practice Management.“
The comprehensive audio conference explores how successful firms create a culture in which mentoring and coaching becomes an inclusive process that is fully integrated with how it does business. It’ll answer questions such as: (1) Is mentoring worth the time it takes? (2) Is it a real tool, or a ‘nice to say you have’? (3) Can it really deliver any quantifiable results?