August 12, 2021

3 Key Steps on How to Establish Mentorship at a Law Firm

By: Vitor Machado (Nova Southeastern University)

It can be an intimidating experience walking into your summer associate for the first time. What kind of conversations should you initiate with your new supervising attorney? When should you approach and introduce yourself to the partners? All of these are valid concerns to have. Most importantly, having these concerns means that you are keen to establish strong relationships with the leaders who will guide you through this new journey you just embarked on – in other words, you want to establish a mentorship. Throughout my summer associate program with Kelley Kronenberg, I have gained a deeper understanding of mentorship that will in turn allow me to provide you with a crash course on how to navigate these murky waters and some key takeaways from my personal experiences.

First and foremost, COVID-19 forced professionals to communicate and interact in ways that were never done before. Personally, I strongly believe that a summer internship for law students is best served in-person. Yet on the same token, we were all on equal playing fields so those who embraced the change were rewarded for it. But for purposes of this discussion, with optimism and foresight, we will pretend that you’ll be physically present at the firm.

I’ll cut right to the chase: curiosity, initiative, and accountability are unequivocally some of the best ways to show an attorney at the firm that you are a worthy mentee. I say worthy because this relationship can only coexist in reciprocity – you are more likely to receive that illustrious one-on-one guidance when you actively pursue it.

  1. Curiosity is the first step, which is grounded in asking (well-founded) questions. Quite literally, simply ask as many questions as you can. It’s no secret that attorneys enjoy talking about themselves, so this might be the easiest way to jumpstart your mentorship. If you see them dissect a contract in ways that you never learned about in class, ask them why. If you see that their motions are seemingly always granted in court, ask them how. Understand that you are a sponge at this stage and the wisdom that an attorney possesses is invaluable to your growth.
  2. Initiative is up next. Yet this doesn’t mean asking to run an errand or organizing their files. It means going above and beyond their expectations; it means understanding your task and providing even more value than anticipated. If you are to research caselaw that bolsters their legal position in a matter, write down a few notes as to how opposing counsel could potentially leverage the court’s analysis against that position. Or when analyzing a contract, research how a specific provision could be interpreted in your jurisdiction rather than simply identifying and highlighting it.
  3. Accountability is last, but certainly not least. In my opinion, this is what most new summer associates will grapple with by virtue of my own experiences and through speaking with my peers. We are not perfect, and we are by no means expected to present a polished legal product that only some seasoned attorneys can get right on their first try. What this is means is that you will inevitably receive strong critiques with several corrections to be made on your next revision. Keep in mind, this is feedback critical for your growth and not personal jabs, so try not to internalize them. If asked why you missed critical reasoning within a ruling or how you looked over an important concession during a deposition, you must remain accountable and look ahead. Dodging accountability can tarnish your reputation because nobody likes a bad sport. Remember to consider some losses as victories because you are still learning and building upon your arsenal of legal knowledge.

When I first joined the Business Litigation and Transactions practice group, led by Partner and Business Unit Leader, Harsh Arora, there was no shortage of questions to be asked. Contrary to law school assignments, the bearing of most of my assignments had real-world implications and so I wanted to be as informed as possible. As a matter of fact, knowing this really weighed me down at first. I would often be in fear of missing an important fact or misinterpreting a court’s reasoning in its ruling. Yet the mentor-mentee relationship I fostered with Harsh is what allowed me to keep learning and growing at such a fast pace.

Whenever possible, I would spend one-on-one time with Harsh discussing legal tactics and how they may affect our position in each matter. Moreover, I was continuously looking for ways to submit assignments with notes/highlights/etc. that he did not explicitly request. Yet, when I was wrong, I was simply wrong. I knew that my mentor was there to show me how I can avoid making the same mistake twice and that reassured my confidence for the future. I was even fortunate enough to bear the fruits of my own labor while working and learning in the Business Litigation and Transactions practice group. We were seeking dismissal of two allegations and the court ruled in our favor for both, partly due to my extensive research on opposing counsel’s caselaw and how it could be leveraged.

I hope that this synopsis of my takeaways as a summer associate of Kelley Kronenberg may serve as a short and concise way to jumpstart a fresh mentorship at your future law school summer program, wherever that may be. If you put in the effort, it will be recognized, and you will be rewarded for it. At one point, these seasoned attorneys were once in our shoes so don’t shy away from employing any of these practices that I have discussed with you.

One last thing I’ll leave you with is this: someone at your firm saw the potential in you, that’s why you were extended the offer to work there. Use that to your absolute advantage and seek out these invaluable relationships that could positively alter the course of your law school career and onwards forever.

DISCLAIMER: This article is provided as a courtesy and is intended for the general information of the matters discussed above and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Neither Kelley Kronenberg, nor its individual attorneys, staff or educational program associates, are responsible for errors, omissions and/or typographical errors – always seek competent legal counsel.