It Takes a Village to Build a Lawyer: The Importance of Mentors in a Legal Career

  • October 28, 2019
  • Shawn Erker

As a lawyer, you may have a good understanding of where to find historical legal documents, cases, or precedents, but what about advisers, or mentors, or counsellors? Building a legal practice can be an isolating experience, with many lawyers spending time working alone while drafting documents or doing research. That’s why it usually takes a deliberate effort to find effective mentors.

Mentorship builds better lawyers, and it also builds happier lawyers. Professionals benefitting from mentorship often find they have higher satisfaction with their careers and are more likely to feel capable performing their daily tasks. A strong network of knowledgeable and helpful confidants may be the most important investment you will make in your career, and this article will give you a sense of how to start building that network from day one.

Multiple relationships for multiple roles

When building mentor-type relationships, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s relationships, plural.

In their paper, “Is More Truly Merrier?: Mentoring and the Practice of Law,” Fiona Kay and Jean Wallace conclude that “individuals benefit more from having multiple mentors over the course of their career.” It is the ability of professionals to draw on a “constellation” of mentors and a broad and diverse range of individuals for mentoring support that best portends success. Having multiple mentors leads lawyers to higher job satisfaction, better perceived career success, better earnings, and a sense of real social value to their legal work. It also provides lawyers with a variety of perspectives, drawn from a broad range of experiences.

More importantly, having multiple mentor-figures allows many types of individuals to play different roles in a lawyer’s career. For example, as a lawyer, you will sometimes be looking for the assistance of teachers. Learning about an unfamiliar area of the law, or staying up-to-date on new developments, is the purview of continuing professional development, higher education, or self-directed learning. At other times, you may be in need of sponsors: people that are able to act as personal references and provide networking contacts. Perhaps most importantly, lawyers may, at different points in their career, need to look beyond their professional mentors and advisors if they require the assistance of counsellors or mental-health professionals. These relationships are important, normal, and can be accessed through the Member Assistance Program available to all Ontario lawyers and law students.