Tiffany Farber is a solo practitioner who has been practicing law since 2008. As someone who has been through transition in her career, she understands the challenges lawyers in this situation face.
Lately, I have read quite a few articles about the decline in mentors at large law firms. Now, I don’t work at a large law firm, nor do I purport to understand the day-to-day goings on of Big Law, but I do find this fact troubling.
I think many of us have a “now, now, now!” mentality in this country. We want to get from one day to the next, but we don’t want to think too much about the future. The future is a nebulous thing to many of us, and it hurts our brains to give it too much credence. I think that’s bad. The future inevitably will become “now” at some point.
I don’t doubt the ability of young attorneys, but I do think that they can benefit from the advice and counsel of more seasoned colleagues. The days of apprenticeships have long since been replaced by the era of the billable hour. I was fascinated by the articles I was reading about the decline in mentors at large firms, so I asked several of my friends who work at such firms. Most of them have confirmed that, while their firms are supposed to have mentoring programs, they are a joke and are rarely implemented. When I think about the number of attorneys at big firms, this troubles me.
If you are a reader of my blog, you know that I am a huge proponent of mentoring. As a forward thinker, I rarely live in the “now, now, now” but often think about the later. I had a mentor who was determined to teach me the ins and outs of special education law because he wanted me to carry the torch in the future. He loved helping junior attorneys. I imagine some people don’t share his view. They would rather toss an attorney into the deep end of the pool. I don’t deny that there is value in feeling your way through a new situation. I have done it many times and, although scared, have emerged victorious. Still, I credit my mentors for giving me the courage to take those risks in the first place and being there to offer guidance if necessary.
My uncle, Steve Farber, is a respected consultant in the leadership community. He travels the world and teaches companies how to be effective leaders and mentors. His latest book is called “Greater than Yourself,” and it teaches the principle, and art, of mentoring. In the book he stresses that, even though the notion may be contrary to what our brains tell us, we should strive to teach people to be greater than ourselves. This means that a senior attorney with the know- how and experience should feel excited by the idea of teaching a less experienced attorney to be even better than him or herself.
I know that mentoring has declined, in part, because people do not want to be usurped by their younger colleagues. I suppose this is fair, but I do think attorneys who have this viewpoint should try to look to the future. The future of the legal profession is so much brighter when lit by the guiding light of those who have come before us.