I could not help but think of those eternal lines sang by the Beatles this week… I get by with a little help from my friends. I have talked quite a lot in this blog about gaining experience while in law school. Perhaps the most important ingredient in gaining experience that will prepare,and propel, you for and into the legal career that you want is who you are spending your time with. I guess my mother was correct, that you are often judged by who you hang out with, because in my opinion who you are spending your time with while gaining legal experience (whether that is in an internship, externship, or volunteering your time) is the game changer. So how does a law student choose who to spend their time with? Good question, for me it comes down to three factors: Who can help you learn, Who will help you learn, Who will invest in you as a person?
Who can help you learn? I think the first critical thing to look for in a mentor(s) is to find someone who is doing what you would dream of doing, and doing it well. This is not a time to aim low, ask yourself what is the one job I would happily jump out of bed in the middle of the night to go do if I were needed. Then begin the task of finding someone who is doing that job, and is known for doing it well. Once you have an idea of what that dream job is, finding out who is great at it is usually easy enough…just start asking people. Once you have communicated to others what it is you want to do (sometimes that is difficult because now you have made it public and cant act as if you didn’t really want to do that) you will begin to hear who is doing that in your area.
Who will help you learn? The second thing to consider once you have located someone who is well respected in the field that you want to work in, you have to evaluate if that person is willing to help you learn. Many people for various reasons may not be interested in helping you learn. For some it is because they are just too busy making their own career grow, for others they may not want to share their knowledge out of fear of competition, and for yet others they may just not have a personality for being a mentor or teacher. If that is the case, don’t try to force it…move on to another potential mentor…you will both be happier in the end.
Who will invest in you as a person? The final aspect I think that makes for a great mentor is someone who is willing to invest in you as a person, not just a lawyer or future associate. Many of the great things I have learned from my mentors include things such as long conversations about intangibles such as justice, showing respect, community involvement and service, and balancing a legal career with religion, family, and friends. When you have surrounded yourself with mentors who truly care about you as a person as well as your career…you have transformed the situation into a friendship that will span your career, not just a 3 month internship.
As I take inventory of what all I have gained and learned from my law school experience, what tops the list are the relationships I have built with my professors and law school staff, my class mates, and definitely the friendships I have made with all my mentors in the legal profession, two of whom are pictured at the beginning of this post (Deputy DA Gary McKenzie and Assistant DA Phil Hatch)- this picture was taken this week at a trial they allowed me to assist with. Years from now I may not remember the verdict, or the defendant…but no question I will remember my mentors and their great advise.