Young associates need a lot of guidance. Whether it’s tempering an overzealous associate or instilling confidence in a quiet one, law firm managers will need to develop a mentoring relationship with their first- and second-year associates to teach best practices and behaviors.
Take, for example, meeting with the client for the first time. You’d be surprised what a young associate doesn’t know.
Rule #1: Dress appropriately.
New clients may stop by the office at any time. Associates don’t want to be caught in casual Friday attire when an important CEO is considering switching firms. Make sure your associates understand the difference between business casual and just, well, casual.
Create a clear policy regarding dress. Sometimes the transition from law student to legal professional is a rumpled one.
Rule #2: Be on time.
Punctuality is a must when filing legal briefs or showing up to court. Law firm partners would not likely accept a first-year associate being late to a meeting. So, the everyday environment of a law office should not be any different.
Communicate to your younger associates the expectations for timeliness of the firm. If the managing partners show up around 9:30 each morning, then everybody else should be working by 9:00. It’s an unspoken rule that whomever shows up ready to work first gets the best assignments (and the worm). Those who aren’t around to answer the phone may find their value to the firm is forgotten rather quickly.
Rule #3: Be prepared.
If ten-year-old boy scouts are always prepared, so you should be. Whatever the situation, young associates should start to get in the habit of doing due diligence. Meeting with senior partners or simply office vendors requires lawyers to bring a clear agenda and always deliver results for the firm.
Rule #4: Focus.
“Unfortunately, your office is a trap with all types of distractions,” writes Rebeca Mosquera in “Ten Tips to a Successful First Client Meeting” for the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division.
Among some of the above rules, Mosquera hopes to impart tips she developed early on in her career for having a successful first meeting with clients.
“When you meet with the client for the first time (or any time) you need to be engaged and focused. If you have the meeting in your office you will hear or see emails pop up on your screen, your phone might ring one or several times, people will sneak their heads in to tell you that you have another meeting in fifteen minutes. You don’t want that and the client will get the impression he or she is not your top priority.”
Fortunately, Mosquera’s advice holds true for training young associates, as much as client meetings. More experienced lawyers should always remind young associates to stay focused on a single, billable activity. Whether it’s meeting with a client or even working on a case, keep distractions—like personal calls or emails—to a minimum. Try working in 15-20 minute uninterupted increments before checking work email. You will work more efficiently and make fewer mistakes when you’re 100% dedicated to the task at hand.
So turn off that cell phone and turn on that mentorship program at your firm. Your program should address:
- Methods to manage mentor expectations/requirements for mentee’s professional development (taking associates to meet clients, attend bar association meetings, etc.)
- Developing a culture of mentorship where the firm recognizes and rewards mentors
- Why a first day introduction is not enough
- How to establish better mentor-mentee pairs
- Ways to build mentoring into the lawyer professional development process
- Best practices for setting and adhering to mutually appropriate, time-commitments for mentoring
- Best practices for facilitating open communication between mentor and mentee
- How to assess your program, get “honest” feedback from associates
If you don’t already know how to put this type of program in place, look to the Center For Competitive Management’s audio conference on Thursday, July 9, 2015, from 2PM to 3:15PM EST (here).
The course, “Mentoring More Than a Handshake: Integrating Legal Mentoring With Law Practice Management,” will explain why many formal mentoring programs fail to work as advertised, but how your firm can restructure programs to get it working again.