The Dos and Don’ts of Being a Good Mentor

The Dos and Don’ts of Being a Good Mentor

Erin Weinstock

To some, mentorship comes naturally, but others may need a little bit more time and guidance. Working on a new relationship with someone very new and different from you is a real skill, and as with any skill, the more you practice, the easier it gets.

Much like Holmes and Watson, Batman and Robin, and Han Solo and Chewbacca, the iconic duo dynamic is applicable to a willing mentor and enthusiastic mentee. However, much like the dynamic twosomes mentioned above, the mentor/mentee relationship is delicate, complex and does not evolve over night. Like any relationship, the mentor/mentee relationship requires two ready, willing, and able persons who are prepared to dedicate time and energy to each other. To some, mentorship comes naturally, but others may need a little bit more time and guidance. Working on a new relationship with someone very new and different from you is a real skill, and as with any skill, the more you practice, the easier it gets. The following is my guide for any mentor looking to shepherd a “Robin.”

DO: Make Yourself as Approachable as Possible

As many can relate, your first year as an associate is overwhelming and intimidating. Even the kindest, most congenial partners and judges are still partners and judges. Not only are you getting used to practicing a trade that law school leaves you unprepared for in a practical sense (still waiting for my first case with someone litigating over widgets!), but you are also figuring out how to conduct yourself both professionally and socially in your new role as an attorney. My message to partners here is that something as simple as stopping by your mentee’s office to say hello or offering assistance goes a very long way. Once that door of communication is opened, that younger attorney begins to feel more comfortable and is much more likely to reach out themselves going forward.

DON’T: Expect the Mentee to Always Reach Out

Once a relationship is established, both parties need to understand that it is a two-way street. While mentees should initiate communication with their mentors, mentors should take the lead more often than not and pay close attention to the needs of your mentee. For example, identify your mentee’s strengths and weaknesses. Young lawyers are hungry and eager, but, we do not know what we do not know and we rely on others to advise us. For example, if you see your mentee having trouble with his/her written or verbal skills, then reach out and offer ways to improve and help.

DO: Respect Your Mentee’s Time

As a mentee, I find that mentors sometimes forget the demands and tribulations thrusted upon new associates. Not only do we want to excel in our new environment and career professionally, but we have hours to bill, personal lives to maintain, and extraneous responsibilities outside of the office. I know that balance will come with time (a mentor could take from their own experience and advise on how best to balance), but in the interim, do not be offended if there are times when a prospective or current mentee does not have time to meet or cannot always meet on your schedule. We are still interested in learning from you, but discovery does not prepare itself.

DON’T: Assume Your Advice Will Always be Followed

Remember, this is not parenting, this is mentoring. As a mentor, you rely on your mentee to be open minded to accepting constructive advice and taking suggestions and counsel into consideration. Equivalently, it is up to the mentee to assess the advice provided based upon their needs and life experience, and then decide what to do with it. Mentees DO want your sage guidance, but we are still going to map our own course, so do not be offended if every piece of your advice is not followed. Think back to when you were a young associate, did you follow everyone’s advice?

DO: Be Sensitive

This is really an important one. Remember, we come to you for help and advice, not judgment. One of the worst mistakes a mentor can make, is to make your mentee feel ridiculed or dismissed. As young lawyers, we often fear that our inexperience and constant questions will make us look foolish, so more often than not, we stay silent to avoid appearing naïve and unprofessional.  New associates need a relationship where we can freely ask questions and communicate without fear. A mentee who feels as though they are “failing” their mentor or is afraid to reject or adapt their mentor’s advice in fear of being mocked, could change the relationship dynamic to where the mentor becomes a supervisor instead, or worse, the relationship ends.

DON’T: Expect a Clone of Yourself

In personal relationships, we tend to gravitate towards those who are similar to us. However, in a mentor/mentee relationship, there are immense benefits to seeking out someone who is not your clone. Engaging in a mentorship with someone from a different background or perspective can help you understand other people more and make you a more sensitive, well-rounded teacher. 

DO: Be a Mentor

In today’s post-COVID hybrid environment, a dynamic mentor/mentee relationship is a precious commodity. Even in large firms with many different people and personalities, it is hard to break the barrier and find your “person.” However, once that barrier is broken, a whole world of opportunities for both parties becomes clear. Mentoring gives you the opportunity to self-reflect upon your own experiences, hallow out the “pearls,” and reproduce them for your mentee. By doing so, you not only help your mentee, but you will also grow as a person and find the Chewbacca to your Han Solo along the way.

Reprinted with permission from the June 8, 2022 edition of Daily Business Review © 2022 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or