How to Find a Mentor: Advice from a young lawyer

  • 03 octobre 2018
  • Nadia Klein

Last fall, I attended the amazing networking opportunity known as the Women in Criminal Law Dinner, part of the Criminal Lawyer’s Association Fall Conference, when a former classmate asked me for advice on finding a mentor. This is some of the advice I offered.

First, while in law school, take the time to talk to your professors outside of class. Don’t be afraid to show them your personality and that you’re not simply a law student-robot obsessed with beating the curve. I especially recommend doing this with the amazing army of practitioner-professors who take time out of their 16-hour workdays, and more time away from their families, to come to school and impart their knowledge. These are the people who will soon be your colleagues and their assistance once you graduate and begin your career can be invaluable.

Alongside this piece of advice is the following – be nice. Whether or not people like you plays a large role in whether or not they will want to take the time to guide you. My articling principal, Susan Chapman (as she then was) also taught me that you can accomplish far more for your client simply by being nice than by being needlessly difficult, and still remain a zealous advocate.

Second, network, network, network.  I can already hear you groaning but networking is crucial. I will also let you in on a secret; networking is simply being social. At all conferences I have attended, I have made the rounds and introduced myself to, well, everybody. My hope is that somewhere down the line when they see or hear my name it rekindles a vague warm memory in association. Thus far, it appears to be working. At the Women’s Dinner I found myself seated next to a senior member of the bar, who indicated that she had heard my name but did not know how or from where. We had a fantastic conversation over dinner and I left having a received a promise that she would mail me the butter chicken sauce she buys in the summer from a farmer’s market in Haliburton.[1]

In today’s world, networking includes social networking. I know there are those in the Bar who frown upon using Twitter as a professional tool, but not doing so today is, in my respectful submission, foolish. One of my mentor relationships formed via likes and interactions on Twitter. After we had been mutually “following” each other for a few months, and had commented on each other’s posts, I tweeted “Networking question – if you have not met in rl but interact on twitter, is that enough for a coffee ask?” The lawyer I wished to have coffee with tweeted a one-word reply, “yes.” I emailed her, saying I was thrilled she had replied as she was the one with whom I wished to meet. The coffee date was set-up via tweets, so that others could see the networking gem that is Twitter. The entire episode was somewhat hilarious. Our coffee date was great and she has not only become a treasured mentor but also partly inspired my most recent tattoo.

Third, ask. If there is someone you know with whom you’d like to establish a mentor/mentee relationship, ask them. I once simply told a professor of mine that I had decided he was my mentor. That, I admit, was not an ask, and was fairly bold, even for me. In hindsight, asking probably would have been a better way to go, however, in this one instance, my “request” was successful. 

Don’t be afraid to cold-contact people you wish to meet. This is not a recommendation to blanket the Bar with emails asking for coffee dates, telling each and every lawyer how you admire them; the Bar is small, its members talk to each other, and it won’t be long before the insincerity of your requests is discovered. That being said, the occasional email to a potential mentor can result in the formation of a great relationship. It has for me.

Finally, your reputation is everything. I don’t know how many times I heard “your reputation begins in law school” while I was a student, but it is unquestionably true. There will be a time in your career when you need help. Whether or not that help is forthcoming depends largely on the reputation you have established among your colleagues. If, like many of us, that help is needed early on in your career, you will be thankful you followed my first piece of advice and established relationships with your practitioner-professors, and if you’re nice and generally liked, it is amazing the support you will receive from the Bar when it is needed.

Since I began my legal career, three of my mentors have been appointed to the bench. (Maybe mentoring me is good luck? Want to become a judge? Be my mentor!) Though this changes the nature of our relationship, they remain a source of support when needed, but unfortunately I can no longer send them emails full of expletives or discuss my cases with them.  The mentor process is ongoing; some will leave and you’ll need to find others.  I don’t imagine there will ever be a time in my career when I’m not grateful for my mentor relationships, even when the day comes when I am able to pay it forward, and find myself being approached by young lawyers looking for guidance as they embark on their own legal careers.

About the author

Nadia Klein is a criminal lawyer and associate at MOON ROZIER LPC in Brampton. She is currently a member of the Recent Call Committee of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, and on the Inquest and Custodial Committee of the Law and Mental Disorder Association.


[1] I ran into her in the washroom two days later, on the final day of the Fall Conference. She told me when she arrived home after the Women’s Dinner she checked her cupboards to see if she had any of the butter chicken sauce left from this past summer. Sadly for me, she did not.


Any article or other information or content expressed or made available in this Section is that of the respective author and not of the OBA.