|Oregon State Bar Bulletin JUNE 2011
It sounds like a pretty basic concept: A mentorship program must have clear objectives, and those who are involved in establishing the program must have a clear understanding of how the program will accomplish those objectives.
Yet, according to Ida Abbott, many mentorship programs are attempted without those fundamentals, robbing both the mentored and the mentor from the full array of benefits the relationship can offer.
Abbott is an Oakland, Calif.-based author and professional development consultant who works with law firms across the country to develop mentorship programs. Her book, The Lawyers Guide to Mentoring, is a resource for many bar programs nationwide.
As the Oregon State Bar implements its New Lawyer Mentoring Program, Abbott outlined the elements that are essential to any successful mentorship program, whether formal or informal.
Clear guidelines regarding the expectations for participants are key, and training and guidance must be provided for both the mentored and the mentors, Abbott says.
“For many people mentoring comes easily and naturally. Others may think they are good at it, but what they miss sometimes is that the people they are talking to have needs that are different from what they are addressing or have questions the mentor isn’t answering,” she says.
The mentored should receive training so they understanding their role in the relationship. “We’re talking about a relationship that is mutual, so they need to take an active role and share some responsibility for that relationship,” Abbott says.
Once a mentorship program is established, it is vital to provide ongoing resources and support for participants so they stay engaged in the program.
Abbott says that when she wrote The Lawyer’s Guide to Mentoring in 2000, she had to make the case for mentorship programs. Today more people recognize the value of such programs, but that can be a double-edged sword.
“In a way, we may have become victims of our own success because many people think of mentoring as part of a formal program. While those programs are valuable…it’s also important for people to realize that a lot of mentoring is available and is necessary in other aspects of their careers and at other times of their lives,” she says.
“People don’t think (informal mentorship) is available anymore so they give up on that entirely and think they can only get mentorship through formal programs, and that is a mistake,” Abbott points out.
A mix of informal mentorship and formal professional development training is ideal for young attorneys, she says.
“A (formal) program is an important way of bringing in new lawyers who might otherwise be isolated and not have a way, other than trial and error, to learn about the practice,” Abbott says. “We all make mistakes sometimes, but when you’re all by yourself it can be really hard if you have nobody to talk with about that.”
— Melody Finnemore