I have been lucky to have had some amazing mentors and sponsors throughout my 19 year career as an attorney. These men and women have opened doors to opportunities that may not otherwise have been available to me and about which I would not have been aware, which in turn have opened other doors. I am happy I can now give back and serve as a mentor to the newer attorneys. This is why getting out of one’s comfort zone and networking and getting involved in the community is necessary. Unfortunately, it is not enough to be the best lawyer you can be. You still need to be excellent but people both in your office and in the larger legal community have to know you and know your work ethic if you want to advance.
Mentoring and networking is important because the world is not a meritocracy despite the fact that we teach each generation that if you work hard and always do your best your efforts will be recognized. I was reminded how true this is when I realized that even my children at a young age understand that the world is not a meritocracy and this is why. In my sons’ elementary school, there were elections for student government. There were two students running for fourth grade president. One was a friend of my then-fourth grader, and the other was another student. When my fourth grader came home, my fifth-grader asked the fourth-grader who he voted for. My fourth grader said he voted for the other student (not his friend). In response, my fifth grader told the fourth-grader he should have voted for his friend and he could not understand why he voted for the other student. In response my fourth-grader told him he voted for the person who gave the best speech. Even though he based his decision on the merits, my fifth-grader told him he should have voted for his friend. My fifth-grader’s response was striking to me because although he could not have articulated that the world is not a meritocracy, he knew society is structured so that networks matter.
This is why having good mentors and sponsors is so important. Throughout their lives, people continue to base important decisions such as hiring and referring business opportunities on friendship or who one knows. It is not based on pure merit. If it was, there would be more women, people of color, and LGBT people in positions of power in law firms, government and corporations. Thus, to the more experienced attorneys among us, reach out to the new attorneys and show them the ropes. Teach them to be the best lawyers they can be and take them to events and inform them of opportunities that will enhance their careers. To the newer attorneys, make time for networking and getting involved. Don’t just get your name on the mailing list, go to events, join a committee, get on the Board. Although as young attorneys you are often working very long hours, people outside your office need to get to know you. It is a long term investment in your career. Although you may not get a job the day after you go to an event or join a committee, it may lead to business development a few years down the road, or it may lead to other leadership opportunities with other organizations, that will in turn enhance your resume. Don’t be afraid to go to an event even if you do not know anyone. The attorneys that are active in local bar activities want to help others and will be happy to talk to you. Mentoring and sponsorship are important throughout one’s careers regardless of whether one has been in practice one year or twenty years, or longer, we can all learn from one another and help one another to reach our highest potential.