Since our establishment, in January 2010, of an end-monthly group meeting/presentation meant for and covering issues relevant to attorneys starting their own practices, I have been running up against the same question, over and over (and over) again. And, with the number of clients that we see and email and talk to over the course of time, my noticing of trends has become more like someone-has-just-beaten-me-most-vigoroulsy-about-the-head-and-face-with-a-pattern-so-obvious-and-apparent-that-I-should-have-noticed-it-earlier-and-might-have-done-so-had-I-not-been-so-busy-with-my-fantasy-baseball-team-at-the-time. But, it’s sticking now. Before I tell you what the question of the moment is (that is, if you can’t guess it from the title of this blog post, which you likely can), let me note that, if you found that last part about there being group meetings offered through LOMAP for attorneys starting their own practices (be those solo practices or small firms), and you want in, you can shoot me an email at jared@masslomap.org, and we’ll get you set up for the next one, if the setting up (of your law practice) is what you’re wanting to do. (Promotion of group meetings for start-up attorneys? Check.) The Question: How do I find mentors? How do I choose between the apparently equally delicious Subway Oven Roasted Chicken Breast and Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki footlongs, at only $5 each? (Promotion of Subway sandwich shops? Check. Oh, wait, sorry . . . Wrong Jared. Holy God: We were born two days apart. This just keeps getting worse.)

Back in February 2009, Rodney drafted a very astute post covering the importance, for starting attorneys, of finding mentors. That post is accessible here. Part of my answer to the mentor question is the submission of Rodney’s post, which I make available to everyone asking; I won’t recover the salient points of Rodney’s posting, although you can. In addition to providing some excellent basic information about the mentor relationship between new and seasoned attorneys, Rodney draws a distinction between access points for mentors by mentees (a foolish word, which I nonetheless like to use because it makes me think of manatees): those more traditional avenues, of in-person access, and those less traditional avenues, of general online (listserv-based and group-based aggregates included), and social media access. The latter portioning represents a new and powerful way to increase the circumference of your mentoring circle, and provides unprecedented opportunities to engage leaders in the profession and in the practice, areas (including practice management), of the profession. (For more on this topic, check out the “New Rules for Starting a Law Practice” episode of Rodney’s “UnBillable Hour” podcast, featuring a discussion on this very point as between Rodney and Erik Mazzone, of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Center for Practice Management.) The former is representative of an older school ideal, certainly at least as effective, involving handshakes, the treatments to lunch, informational meetings, organization joining and participating.

In either case, whether you’re seeking to access mentors online, or offline (or probably more effectively, as a combination of both), it’s never just a matter of snapping your fingers, and acquiring a listing of trusted advisors, necessarily someone else’s trusted advisors. It’s one thing to get someone’s name; it’s another thing to make that person remember your name. It’s one thing to get someone’s number or email; it’s another thing to make that person attached to that number or email want to take your call, or want to respond to your email. There is some legwork involved here. And, the cementing of a mentoring relationship involves the same sorts of actions you would apply for the cementing of any relationship. What you get out of a mentoring relationship, as is the case with many things, is directly proportional to what you put into it, in the end.

Although you can certainly use a service (like a bar association mentoring group, like those mentioned in Rodney’s earlier post on this topic), or someone else’s suggestion, to gain immediate access to mentors, you’ve got to work those relationships if you wish to fully realize their potential. My belief is that one of the best places to access mentors is through bar associations . . . but perhaps not through those established bar association mentor groups, at least exclusively. Bar association membership rolls are declining. That means that two important things happen for you: (1) Dues for bar associations are likely to decrease, or remain static = cost savings. (2) There are distinct opportunities existing within bar associations for young attorneys and for attorneys new to bar associations. So the thing to do is not to join a bar association and to fade into the background, because this modern experience represents one of the best opportunities for new attorneys to develop their professional reputations and to access mentors and referrals. Become involved and proactive as soon as possible, within sections, as a panel member for CLE programs, by writing for bar association journals, by forming committees, by volunteering for pro bono opportunities, and etc. There are a number of available opportunities within bar associations. And, plainly, you’re becoming involved not because you don’t have anything better to do, but for two distinct reasons: (1) for your own professional development and edification; (2) in order to display for the seasoned attorneys with whom you become involved, through your bar association participation, your acumen and initiative. And these are just the sorts of people, these seasoned attorneys participating in bar associations, whom you want to reach out to, because they are willing to help their fellow attorneys (Why else would they join a bar association?) and because they have the time to do so (Their practices are already established, and thriving, How else would they have time to participate in bar association activities?). This, of course, assumes that attorneys don’t put on shows for effect; and everyone knows that they don’t. And, so, part of this, as well, is bringing your hard work, that is so often, now, being shown off at your bar association, to bear on the planning process. What practice areas are you looking for advice in? Get involved in those sections. Who are the attorneys you want to get advice from? Establish your targets before you start, and then execute upon them. Carry through a trait of thoroughness in everything that you do, including in the whole process of creating around yourself a mentoring circle, and your efforts will pay off, if not immediately, at least later on, and probably handsomely, if you
stay after it.

I use the term mentoring “circle” purposely. Enough times have attorneys asked me the singular question: How do I find a mentor? But, this involves more than just the finding of a single mentor, because: What if that singular mentor goes on vacation when you need help with a particularly thorny issue? What happens if that mentor shifts practice areas? What happens if that mentor picks up and moves out of state? You’re out of luck, that’s what; and the mentor spelunking process begins anew. . . . Unless you have been smart enough to gather around yourself a number of mentors, who can step in, as needed. (Think of yourself as being like that dude from “Entourage”, if you think that this isn’t cool enough as described. Nah, never mind that. You’re not the dude from “Entourage”.) If you’re precise enough about what you do, you may even be able to access mentors for particular purposes, e.g.–for your family law questions, for your tax questions, for your practice management questions, and so on. Think of it as unbundling the mentor relationship. You work within niches, apply the same thesis to your mentoring associations.

If you’re perhaps shy to go about this sort of wrangling, for fear, that the benefits are initially mostly in the other corner, remember that the relationship will not remain this way for all eternity–nothing ever does. Your mentors may help you now, but that doesn’t mean that they get nothing at all back out of it, whether in the near-term or in the long-term. Initially, it sort of looks impressive for these folks to be mentoring newer attorneys; it represents a growth spurt for their professional image, as well, of the sort centered around commentary, like: He must really know his stuff. People love to be looked upon as experts, and part of being a mentor is being recognized as an expert, in the eyes of at least one person. Furthermore, as you grow in expertise and acumen, those attorneys who have helped you along share something in the way of that prestige, and have also done something in the way of gaining your loyalty. It is not inconceivable that a mentoring relationship could develop into more, including referrals, job offers and even partnership offers. Neither is it inconceivable that your mentor may end up, one day, asking you some questions. Just realize that this is not a one way street, requiring a toll, in return for passage, of your constant obsequious behavior. You have something to offer, as well; and, while what your mentor has to offer diminishes in its return, what you have to offer becomes the speculative investment of your mentor.

In the final analysis, finding a mentor is much the same as marketing for clients or for referrals: You are establishing your reputation, and repetitively marketing your brand within a settled sphere, or spheres. Only, in this endeavor, your brand is the hard-working and potential-riddled young attorney, who will become expert over time, with the help of the right right hand men, and women.

. . .

Liner Notes

The previous part of this post has been brought to you by the letter “M”, for “mentor”. This segment of the post is brought to you by the letter “M”, for “mentor”. Oh, and, “music”, naturally.

In my last hack at Liner Notes, I referenced my developed interest in country music. I feel like you know me as the-dude-who-loves-non-disco-seventies-music; and, while that’s true, that’s certainly not the only place my interest lies. I dig at least a portion of just about every sort of musical genre.

And, when we’re talking about mentors and influences, they don’t get much older, in terms of popular music, than the founding fathers and mothers of country (The Carter Family) and modern country (Hank Williams). It always surprises me when I see just mammoth box sets for these artists available at pennies on the dollar for actual value. (I mean, I’ll take the discount, but still . . .) The Carter Family, much through the auspices of A.P. Carter, catalogued, and brought to a wide audience, a spectrum of American-a music, that otherwise might have been utterly lost. Maybelle Carter pioneered the “Carter Scratch”, essentially introducing the guitar as a lead element in modern music. (You’re welcome, Jimmy Page.) The Carter Family was music royalty, to the extent that Johnny Cash, the man in black himself, himself was itching to get in. Hank Williams achieved broad popularity at the age of 25, but was dead within four years. Despite the limited space of time in which Hank had to achieve, his influence on modern country music cannot be overstated. Nearly every recognizable aspect of modern country music emanates from the progenitor. And, if that weren’t enough, Hank, Sr. sired Hank, Jr., who, in his turn, sired Hank, III, probably my favorite modern country singer, and a worthy successor to his grandfather, in more ways than music. (We’re Facebook friends, so I have to say that. No, seriously.)

(Enough of your babbling, Jared! Kick Out the Jams, already!)

Okay, Okay.

In chronological order, first the Carters, then the Hank (keeping in mind that originals are sometimes hard to come by):

Angel Band” by The Carter Family

Single Girl, Married Girl” by The Carter Family

Wildwood Flower” by The Carter Family

John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man” by The Carter Family

Can the Circle Be Unbroken?” by The Carter Family

Wabash Cannonball” by The Carter Family

Keep on the Sunny Side” by The Carter Family

. . .

Your Cheatin’ Heart” b
y Hank Williams

Move It On Over” by Hank Williams

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams

Kaw-Liga” by Hank Williams (Yeah, try getting that on the radio in 2010.)

Lovesick Blues” by Hank Williams

Honky Tonk Blues” by Hank Williams

Honky Tonkin’” by Hank Williams

Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” by Hank Williams

Half As Much” by Hank Williams

And, those Hank Williams songs are exclusively taken from the “20 of Hank Williams’ Greatest Hits” album–you know, the one with the bust on the cover. (No, not that kind of bust.) I know it’s not “Eenie Meenie Miney Moe Lover”, but this is some pretty good stuff, right?

. . . Oh, sorry. That was the week before last’s rant, Wasn’t it? Am I starting to sound like a grumpy old man, or is it just me?

. . .

Liner Not

For those of you keeping track, I think this is my 100th post to the LOMAP Blog. What does that mean? Well, I think it means that there are a crap ton of posts that I don’t remember making.