More law firms should have mentorship programs


Small law firms

Most law firm partners do not receive any type of formal support as they begin their first few years as a practicing attorney. In some law firms, junior lawyers are put in a big bind and are expected to complete their assignments with little or no support from partners. Indeed, in many of the law firms I worked for before starting my private practice, I was expected to acquire only the skills I needed to know on the job, and I was not assigned any mentors. However, when I was a fellow Biglaw, I was part of a law firm mentoring program. More law firms should consider hosting such programs as colleagues and partners can benefit from this approach.

While working at Biglaw, I began my mentoring experience in a law firm as a summer associate. At that time, I had two mentors assigned to my law firm, one was a colleague several years older than me and the other was a partner with decades of his career. I would meet with each of my mentors once a week and, if conditions permitted, we would have coffee or lunch outside the office so we could have less constrained conversations.

The mentoring experience was very beneficial to me. The assistant mentor told me about his own experiences starting out in the law firm and gave me valuable advice on how to be a more effective partner in the law firm. And perhaps most importantly, the assistant mentor gave me tips on how to deal with some of the big guys in the office, which was very helpful in ensuring that I liked the associates who had the most “juice” in that shop. The partner mentor told me all the steps I needed to complete in order to be considered for the partnership, and gave me other comments that people who have been through decades of their careers know.

When I joined that law firm as a full-time associate, the mentorship program continued. As I got busier at work, I saw my mentors less and less, but I still saw my co-mentors and partners on a regular basis. In addition to these two mentors, I also had a writing mentor who gave me advice on my writing. I get trolled regularly online for my articles being miswritten above the law, so this guide probably didn’t do such a good job! However, this mentorship was really helpful for my training as a lawyer.

After I wrote a brief memorandum or section, my writing mentor would review the portion of the legal writing and provide feedback. We often spent the greater part of the hour revising my writing, and my tutor gave me advice on how to economize on my language and format my writing to be easy for the reader to understand. The person appointed as my writing mentor was a great writer, and had written some of the most important briefs and other legal writings in our office. I will not say that I have reached his level of proficiency in legal writing, but my writing teacher gave me many tips on legal writing that improved my writing as an assistant in that firm and that I continue to use in my legal writing today.

Law firms may not want to create mentorship programs for many reasons. Lawyers have a limited amount of time, and most law firms focus on billing as many hours as possible rather than developing partners into better lawyers. In many law firms, partners rarely stay in the office for more than a year or two, so it doesn’t make sense to invest a lot of time training these lawyers to become better practitioners. Furthermore, some legal jobs do not require as much focus on writing, so this element of the mentoring program I experienced may not be attractive to some attorneys.

However, if partners expect (or at least hope) that their partners will remain with their firm for a while, they should consider creating mentorship programs for law firms. Such programs can help new partners build relationships with a law firm which increases the likelihood that lawyers will stay in the shop longer. Furthermore, mentoring programs in law firms can help associates improve their skills and become more experienced practitioners, which may have a positive impact on the work that associates perform for clients.

Jordan Rothman Partner Rothman Law FirmA full-service law firm in New York and New Jersey. He is also a founder Student Debt Diary, a website discussing how to pay off his student loans. You can reach Jordan via e-mail at


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