Issue 37, Fall 2013

This year has flown by. It’s hard to believe the holiday season is here and 2014 is right around the corner. The year has been busy and productive for me and I hope it has been for you too.

I have  some exciting news to share with you. My new book, Sponsoring Women: What Men Need to Know, will be published in January 2014 in digital and print editions. The purpose of this book is to inspire and encourage men to actively champion women’s career advancement by giving them information, tools and guidance. This book is not just for lawyers but for men in any organization, and the advice it offers will be helpful to all men who are in positions to actively support and sponsor women. Sponsoring Women will make a great holiday gift for the men in your firm, your community and your life. Books are available for advance purchase at and all advance orders will receive a 10% discount. Order your copies now!

Although sponsorship is in the spotlight, mentoring remains vital for lawyers’ professional learning and development. Now is a good time to review and update your mentoring programs and informal mentoring practices to add some approaches more in line with modern attitudes, constraints and work conditions. I offer some suggestions. 

The Institute of Mentoring is looking for law firms interested in participating in research about law firm partners as mentors.

The deficiencies in new lawyers’ readiness for practice have become very apparent since the economic downturn. Bar associations in New York and California have weighed in on what to do about it with comprehensive reports and recommendations.

Membership is now open for the two Roundtables that I lead:

To learn more about the Roundtables and to join, please contact me.

I have many exciting events coming up in the next few months, including a trip to attend the kick-off of Law Without Walls 2014 in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

Be sure to put the dates on your calendar for the National Conference on Mentoring in Our Evolving Profession, May 1-3, 2014, and the Hastings Leadership Academy for Women, July 23-26, 2014.

Here’s wishing you and yours a joyful holiday season and all the best in the year ahead.

In This Issue

Sponsorship: Why A Book For Men?

 What Men Need to KnowMy new book, Sponsoring Women: What Men Need to Know, is intended to be a resource for men who are now or will one day be in a position to sponsor women for leadership and professional success. There are surprisingly few resources for men who want to sponsor women or who might want to if they understood how to do it. This book is intended to fill the void.

Sponsors are powerful backers who identify high performers and actively champion their advancement. Abundant evidence shows that having a powerful sponsor can accelerate career success, that most sponsors are men, and that these men sponsor other men far more frequently than they sponsor women. Because fewer women have sponsors, they do not receive the same promotions, raises and career benefits that men get, even when they work as hard and perform as well as men. The sponsorship advantages that men receive – and women are denied – contribute significantly to the high attrition rate among women who ought to be moving into leadership.  

The lack of sponsorship for women is a detriment to organizations as well as to women. Companies with a strong representation of women leaders enjoy numerous economic and institutional benefits, including a stronger bottom line and more creative and effective leadership performance. Organizations with few women in leadership lose out on these benefits and are less competitive.

Across many industries women constitute half or more of the entering workforce but only a tiny fraction of the leadership. Most companies and professional service firms have good policies and programs to advance women, but ingrained work cultures and political practices continue to disadvantage women, dash their hopes and ambitions, and cause them to leave before they achieve their leadership potential. Influential sponsors who actively groom high performing women for leadership can keep many of those women engaged and on track.

In today’s economy, no organization can afford to lose the highly capable talent that women represent. Companies that fail to keep women and enable them to succeed put limits on the business' potential for top performance, growth and innovation. In order to create an inclusive culture where women can advance and thrive, partners and senior managers – who are overwhelmingly men – have to step up and put action to their words. These men have a responsibility to do it, not because they created the gender imbalance in their companies but because they are in control and are the only ones with power to do it. When leaders demonstrate their personal commitment to gender equity by sponsoring women as readily as they do men, they become the catalysts for positive change. 

In the work I do to promote sponsorship for women, I often have private conversations with men that are quite different than the discussions that occur when other people are present. Men voice concerns to me in confidence that would be improper or embarrassing for them to bring up in a group setting. For instance, they explain that sponsoring women would be difficult for them because their wives get jealous when they work closely with younger women. They worry that they might be accused of impropriety or discrimination if they give women the kind of tough feedback they give to the men they sponsor, especially on matters like personal appearance. They complain that women give them ambiguous or conflicting messages about whether they want to take on leadership responsibilities. As a result of these and other concerns, many men ignore highly capable women and sponsor men instead because it is easier, more comfortable and less complicated. It does not have to be that way, of course, and for some men these are merely excuses. But for most of the men who raise these issues the concerns are real, and we need to help men get beyond them so they can successfully and enthusiastically sponsor women. That’s the objective of my book.

My hope is that this book will engage men actively and purposefully in efforts to build a more inclusive workplace where women really do have an equal chance to succeed.

Sponsoring Women: What Men Need to Know will be a great holiday gift for men who actively support women’s advancement – or who might, if they had a little encouragement and enlightenment. The book will be available in digital and print editions in mid-January 2014. Advance orders are being accepted now and will receive a 10% discount. For further information and to buy your copies, go to

Modernizing Mentoring

The importance of mentoring in lawyers’ learning and development is undeniable, as the bar association reports discussed here point out. Mentoring is an integral part of lawyers’ learning and development throughout their professional careers, and it can be especially helpful during times of change. But with so much turbulence in the profession, there is a risk that existing mentoring programs may feel stale or irrelevant. Rapidly changing practice conditions require updated approaches that rekindle lawyers’ interest in mentoring. These approaches call for vital skills that many lawyers lack. Now is a good time to revive lawyers’ interest in mentoring, teach them new mentoring skills, and invigorate mentoring practices.

What has not changed: the underlying principles of mentoring

The basic principles that make mentoring unique remain unchanged:

  • Mentoring is a process
  • Based on a personal relationship
  • Focused on learning and development

Mentoring involves a process of development over time. At the end of a mentoring relationship, the mentee should have learned new competencies, reached some goals, and perhaps made some career decisions. In the most profound mentoring relationships, the mentee may have attained professional excellence, advanced to high levels of career success and perhaps even surpassed the mentor. 

The most important distinction between mentoring and other forms of learning and development is the existence of a personal relationship between mentor and mentee. The relationship need not be profound or long-lasting to be effective, but the better the two know each other, and the more committed they are to their developmental purpose, the more they both benefit from the process. 

Mentoring in a law firm setting deals with professional and career development. In other workplaces it may focus primarily on transmitting technical information and skills. In a law firm, however, the emphasis is on lawyers becoming and remaining competent, professional and ethical providers of legal services. As mentorship progresses, mentees learn to integrate multiple dimensions of knowledge and skill, exercise sound judgment, and ultimately, develop wisdom. This takes time, attention and commitment.

What has changed: law practice

The world of law practice is more fast-paced and high-pressured than ever. Lawyers working on the same team may be dispersed geographically, work remotely and communicate electronically. Lawyers of different ages and with different degrees of experience have valuable knowledge, so depending on the situation, everyone can be both a teacher and a learner. And longevity is unpredictable because lawyers move from firm to firm, so relationships often have little time to take root. Against this background, mentoring cannot always be one-on-one, top-down, face-to-face or long term.

Updating mentoring: Five suggestions

Here are five ideas to adapt mentoring to fit the new conditions of law practice. Some of these suggestions require skills that many lawyers do poorly and some do not possess at all. These skills – which are discussed below – are also valuable in all aspects of modern law practice.  

  1. Make mentoring a habit. Mentoring today should be a matter of everyday practice and habit. This can happen when every supervising lawyer learns and applies skills that foster on-the-job learning. In an environment where continuous learning is embedded in the culture, lawyers share ideas, knowledge, and experience with each other for mutual benefit and advancement. Associates are comfortable asking for information, guidance and feedback. Partners are open about what they know and glad to help others learn, thrive and add to the collective intelligence of the firm. They understand that helping junior lawyers succeed in the course of their daily work produces important benefits for their own practice and for the firm. Teaching and giving feedback, sharing best practices and offering guidance accelerates associates’ learning, improves the quality of associates’ work, makes them more reliable, and increases their efficiency, productivity and engagement. In this sort of environment, mentoring relationships develop naturally.
  2. Promote diversity among participants. Diversity in the broadest sense is an essential part of modern mentoring relationships. In a world where everyone has something to learn, teach and contribute, all voices need to be heard and welcomed. It is well established that when team members have dissimilar experiences, talents and perspectives, they help each other see things in new and different ways. They make better decisions and generate more creative solutions. Similarly, in mentoring pairs and groups, differences among participants can produce richer, more productive and more worthwhile mentoring experiences.
  3. Use technology to support mentoring. Lawyers rarely meet face-to-face any more. Most communication is via email, texting, web conferencing, social media and telephone. These have become the preferred methods of communication for all lawyers, not just the youngest ones. Lawyers in the same office use technology as the default mode of communication and find it takes a special effort to go to someone else’s office to talk. While personal relationships can form more readily and become deeper more quickly when people meet in person, communication through media has become so ubiquitous that people can easily engage in mentoring without ever being in the same place at the same time. So embrace technology. In particular, encourage the use of oral and visual media, which provide more nuance, clarity and understanding than written words alone. And stress that technology is a means to support mentoring, not an excuse to avoid in-person meetings. Lawyers in the same office or who are in different offices but have occasional opportunities to meet should still meet face to face whenever possible.
  4. Forget hierarchy. In the past, mentors were partners and senior associates and mentoring was a “top-down” affair. Today’s lawyers are more egalitarian. They expect to learn from whoever has the knowledge, insight or advice they need. The increasing emphasis on using teamwork, collaboration and social learning to get work done further underscores the need for everyone to learn, teach and contribute, regardless of their status or seniority. Mentoring can readily be adapted to meet this new reality. Approaches that a firm might encourage include:
    1. Group mentoring: As the name suggests, several people form a group for the purpose of learning. One or more designated mentors take the lead but all group members share knowledge and contribute to discussions. Through mentoring groups, the firm can leverage leaders and experts, as well as women and minority partners who are in high demand and short supply.
    2. Mentoring circles: These are similar to mentoring groups but instead of one or more designated mentors, group members take turns leading as mentors and facilitating the discussions.
    3. Peer mentoring: Lawyers learn and derive support from their peers. Peers may be in the same practice or from different practice areas or offices; they might work on a client or case team together or simply have knowledge and insight that they can share. New lawyers might turn to their peers for social support and a sense of connection; experienced lawyers might turn to their peers for advice about leadership or client management. 
    4. Reverse mentoring: In reverse mentoring, the traditional senior lawyer/mentor and junior lawyer/mentee switch roles, with the junior lawyer serving as the mentor. The process enables senior lawyers to learn about the perspectives and experiences of younger ones, which can help senior lawyers become better, more informed leaders and foster more creative and innovative thinking. Reverse mentoring is sometimes employed to have young lawyers introduce seniors to new technology trends and uses, or to promote their understanding of diversity and inclusion by placing women and minority lawyers into the role of mentor.
    5. Mentoring networks. This type of mentoring uses a social media approach. A group of people participates in a learning network where members seek assistance from each other as needed. To be in the network, members commit to participating actively and responding to others’ requests. Network members do not meet as a group and most communications are online. Mentoring networks have no particular agenda or focused learning objectives; they are more situational and deal with immediate learning or support needs. Members contact each other for information, support and guidance when the need arises, either by directing inquiries to individual members or the group as a whole.
  5. Encourage self-directed mentoring. Mentoring in a law firm should help lawyers become more self-directed and independent in the process of selecting and working with mentors. Mentors assigned through a program usually serve limited roles, while lawyers need multiple mentors to help them in different ways. They have to determine what kind of mentoring assistance they want at different points in their career; then they have to find the kinds of mentors they need and initiate mentoring relationships. Because needs, priorities and circumstances change over time, and learning is career-long, firms should help lawyers become more self-aware, conscientious and autonomous in starting mentoring relationships. 

These updated approaches to mentoring call for some adjustments in lawyers’ thinking and behavior. Firms can lay the groundwork by teaching lawyers the skills necessary to carry them out. While all of these skills will enhance mentorship, they will also benefit lawyers’ practices in countless other ways.

  • To promote a mentoring culture, teach and encourage all lawyers to be mentors. Help them learn basic people management skills: delegation, supervision, coaching, and giving feedback. Emotional intelligence skills are also highly useful.
  • When providing diversity and inclusion training, cover more than implicit bias. Include lessons and exercises that teach how to understand and appreciate people’s differences, deal with those differences, and make everyone feel valued and included.
  • Teach lawyers interpersonal skills. Technology-based communication makes it easier to communicate on a basic level, but it also deprives lawyers of opportunities to learn how to interact with people effectively when they do meet in person. Whether interviewing clients, working with team members or trying to bring in business, interpersonal skills are essential and the firm should make it a priority for lawyers to learn them. Mentoring relationships are excellent vehicles for practicing these skills, and mentor training is a good context in which to teach them.
  • Teach lawyers group dynamics. The increased use of groups as vehicles for mentoring means that lawyers need to learn how to lead teams, facilitate groups, and manage meetings, both in person and virtually.
  • Include an “etiquette” component in management and interpersonal skills training. The breakdown of hierarchy means that lawyers need to be able to inquire, evaluate and give feedback to peers and supervisors as well as subordinates. This challenges existing status structures, which may make junior lawyers overly bold and rankle partners.
  • Help lawyers understand generational differences and learn how to bridge them. Patience is in short supply, yet relationships take time. So does learning to become a professional. For young lawyers who are accustomed to immediacy, relationship building and achieving professional competencies can be frustrating. Older mentors who expect to control the pace and direction of the mentoring process, or who feel mentees’ behaviors and attitudes are disrespectful, may be equally upset.
  • Expand communication skills training. For ongoing learning and career-long mentoring, lawyers need to learn not just basic communication skills, but also how to engage in learning dialogues where both parties inquire, contribute, listen, learn and generate new understanding.

If it’s time to refresh your firm’s mentoring programs and practices, try to institute some modern approaches to revitalize lawyers’ interest. Equipping them with new mentoring skills that they also need in other aspects of practice will make them more effective lawyers overall. 

Experiential Learning and Mentoring: Two Bar Association Reports

The deficiencies in new lawyers’ readiness for practice have become very apparent since the economic downturn. Fewer jobs mean more new lawyers are starting solo practices without knowing how to practice law or manage a law practice. In law firms, clients are refusing to pay for work done by new lawyers who are not “practice-ready” and therefore add no apparent value to the services provided. The need for legal education to include more practical competency-based learning and mentoring, and to continue beyond the classroom and after graduation, has become urgent.

The New York City Bar Association and the State Bar of California have recently issued comprehensive reports that call for fundamental changes in the way lawyers are taught to practice law both in and after law school. Both reports offer detailed analyses of the reasons these changes are needed and the thinking behind the solutions proposed, including the essential roles of experiential learning and mentoring. They are valuable resources for anyone involved in the education and post-graduate training and development of lawyers.[1]

The charter and scope of the New York City Bar’s report is more far-reaching than California’s. The City Bar appointed a Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession to examine “whether new lawyers are being given relevant development opportunities in law school and in their early careers so that they are employable, able to realize their aspirations in a reasonable time frame, and ready to serve clients effectively.” The California State Bar created a Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform to examine whether competency skills training should be a required component of the regulatory framework for admission to the Bar.

Both task forces issued reports that carefully analyze the state of legal education and post-graduate preparation and concluded that fundamental changes are needed in order to give law students and new lawyers better grounding and more skills in the practical aspects of being a lawyer. They made recommendations that would engage all sectors of the legal profession in a collaborative effort to provide more competency-based hands-on learning and mentoring during and after law school. The recommendations would teach new and junior lawyers practical skills and professionalism, ease their transition into practice, and at the same time, help them serve the unmet needs of poor and low-income people through pro bono work.

The New York City Bar report highlights the market trends affecting law practice, the bleak job market, and the mismatch between the oversupply of lawyers and unmet needs of people with low and modest incomes. The report emphasizes that lawyers must acquire the skills and experiences necessary to operate and serve clients in the changing legal market, and that many different methods of instruction will be necessary both during and after law school. It therefore calls for experimentation and innovation in the way lawyers learn to practice, and announces several pilot programs designed to demonstrate some new and different approaches to be implemented in New York City. The pilot programs will help integrate new lawyers into the legal community; offer them career support, training and employment opportunities; and have them participate in an experimental law firm in which new lawyers will try to develop a sustainable practice by serving the needs of the middle class.

The California State Bar report recommends a new set of pre- and post-Bar admission training requirements that focus on practical competencies and professionalism:

  • 15 units of coursework in practical skills training prior to admission to the Bar, which can be acquired through law school coursework and/or bar-approved externship, clerkship or apprenticeship programs sponsored by courts, governmental agencies, law firms or legal service providers;
  • 50 hours of pro bono work, either pre- or post-admission; and
  • 10 extra hours of post-admission CLE training in practice competencies, which can be acquired by participating in a mentoring program.

The objective of these proposed requirements and recommendations, as explained in the California State Bar report, is to ensure that new lawyers “enter the profession oriented to the actual experience of practice and the values of ethics and professionalism, so that when they begin to absorb that experience as practicing lawyers, they all have a proper foundation for growth.”

In October 2013, the California State Bar adopted its Task Force’s proposals and has established a committee to devise an implementation plan. The New York City Bar has launched four pilot programs and set up public discussions and procedures to engage members of the bar and implement the Task Force proposals. 


[1] For more information about experiential learning and mentoring in lawyers’ professional development, see my book, Lawyers’ Professional Development: The Legal Employer’s Comprehensive Guide, 2nd Edition.

New Research Project on Law Firm Mentoring

The Institute of Mentoring is embarking on research into law firm mentoring to generate insights and best practices. The study will examine the role, skills, motivations and priorities of law firm partners in mentoring other senior lawyers and partners. The research team consists of Heidi K. Gardner, PhD, who is on the faculty of Harvard Business School and a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Law School’s Program on the Legal Profession; and Rebecca Normand-Hochman, a lawyer who founded and directs the Institute of Mentoring and leads the International Bar Association’s Law Firm Mentoring Program. 

The researchers are looking for 25 law firms to participate. If your firm is interested or for further information, please contact hannen.beith@instituteofmentoring.

Upcoming Events

ALA Program in Washington, DC

December 11, 2013

"Running Mentoring Programs Effectively" will be the topic of my presentation to the Association of Legal Administrators, Capital Chapter, in Washington, DC on December 11.

Professional Development Institute

December 12, 2013 - December 13, 2013

The 2013 Professional Development Institute will be in Washington, DC, December 12-13. On the 13th, I will be presenting on "Driving Innovative Learning in the Law Firm: Lessons from Law Without Walls." Law Without Walls is a revolutionary, award-winning law school course involving students from 25 law and business schools in countries throughout the world. 

Law Without Walls

January 18, 2014 - January 19, 2014

The kickoff session for next year's Law Without Walls will take place at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, on January 18-19, 2014, and I will be there! will be an Entrepreneur Mentor for a student team in the 2014 course.

NABE Conference

February 5, 2014

The National Association of Bar Executives has invited me back to expand on my 2013 presentation, "Connecting Core Competencies: New Graduates and the Bar." At their 2014 mid-year meeting in Chicago, February 4-6, 2014, I will continue the conversation about the changing role of bar associations in preparing new lawyers for practice.

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