Tips for Young Lawyers

Tips for Young Lawyers

How and Why to Find a Mentor
By:  Michael K. Hurst

What kind of lawyer are you?  Hopefully, you have ideals related to success, service, and professionalism.  What kind of lawyer will you become?  The answer to this question may largely be determined by the lawyers from whom you learn, and whom you emulate, receive your training and model your behavior. 

Frequent reminders of moral, professional, and ethical obligations will help ensure that you become a lawyer who both you and others respect.  If your guidance comes from attorneys who take shortcuts and behave obnoxiously, your career may veer in a different direction.


Robert Frost started his classic poem The Road Not Taken with the line: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood …”.  Imagine that the two roads to which Mr. Frost is referring are the road of the lawyer you want to be on the one hand, and on the other hand, the lawyer you think you need to be in order to be successful.  You do not know if the first road will eventually converge with the second road.  Which road would you take? 

While taking the first road certainly does not have to equate with being unsuccessful, but particularly in the current legal climate, all lawyers are confronted with the temptation to take the second road no matter the cost.  Perhaps that is because young lawyers are influenced by more senior lawyers who have either taken young lawyers under their wing or who appear to have achieved some recognition and financial success by being the “pit bull” or like Saul from Breaking Bad.  The Mentor(s) that you choose will likely influence the road you travel.


While the term “success” is a ubiquitous concept that, depending on individual views and goals, can consist of any combination of financial security, recognition, lives positively impacted and overall improvement of society and the world.  Sometimes this concept of “success” is kindled by the slightest of opportunity.  That opportunity may come in the form of co-presenting or co-authoring a CLE, participating in hearings or trials, or attending client development functions with more senior lawyers.

To paraphrase Malcolm Gladwell from Outliers, what makes a Bill Gates more successful than others of equal or superior intelligence and gumption is that some people simply had “been given opportunities -- and who had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”  In Outliers, Mr. Gladwell gives many examples to support his theories about how objectively successful people were put in a position of opportunity and that very often what causes those people to be successful, and others with similar capabilities not to achieve success, is in two words:  a chance. 

Having a good mentor in the legal profession can augment the likelihood of your getting that chance.


Many of my colleagues with whom I started practicing law became disenchanted with the practice of law early in their careers.  Many of them are no longer practicing.  Even worse, I witnessed an inordinate amount of my colleagues succumb to depression, substance abuse and family problems.

According to Brian Clarke, Associate Professor at Charlotte School of Law, lawyers are 3.6 times more likely than the general population to suffer from depression.  Lawyers can always use someone in whom to confide in times of need.  Mentoring can provide that support.


1.  Watch and Learn.  Mentoring is not always about one-on-one involvement.  You can, indeed, be mentored from afar.  You should take the opportunity as often as you can to watch lawyers who are skilled, professional and dynamic.  Your opportunities for learning from such lawyers may occur at CLEs or the courthouse.  Spending time at the local Bar Association and courthouse will allow you to observe and potentially find folks by whom you may want to be mentored.

2.  Inns of Court.  For those who live in cities that have Inns of Court, I strongly encourage you to try to join and to participate in an Inn of Court.  The Inn of Court movement in the United States fosters professionalism, civility, and mentoring.  At Inns of Court meetings, you will have the opportunity to visit with venerable lawyers, judges, and professors in collegial settings and hear excellent speakers talk about the ethics of being a lawyer.

3.  Don’t be afraid to ask.  Whether you meet a prospective mentor at the Bar Association, the courthouse, work, or elsewhere, have the confidence and security of asking the prospective mentor to lunch or coffee.  Many of the prospective mentors will be flattered that you have reached out to them.  Many prospective mentors recognize the importance of passing along wisdom and experience from years of practice.  These lunches or coffees can often lead to a more regular informal or formal mentoring relationship.

4.  Get advice from colleagues about their mentors.  You may have friends and colleagues that have successful mentoring relationships.  Sometimes your colleagues may actually be willing to “share” their mentors with others.  Other colleagues may inquire of their mentors as to who might be a good mentor for you.  Lean on your colleagues for suggestions on mentors and the scope of mentoring relationships.

5.  Make sure you follow up with your mentor.  Whether you work with your mentor on a daily basis, or have lunch with your mentor a couple of times a year, it is important to regularly check in with your mentor and also to reinforce your appreciation of your mentor’s guidance and assistance.  Remember, the more reinforcement you have of the core values of our profession, the more likely you are to stay on the road to success.

While good mentoring does not guarantee happiness or success, it does increase your chances.

Michael Hurst is a partner at Gruber Hurst Johansen Hail Shank, where he practices complex commercial, intellectual property, and employment litigation. Hurst recently received the TYLA Mentor of the Year award, a prestigious statewide honor.

Views and opinions expressed in eNews are those of their authors and not necessarily those of the Texas Young Lawyers Association or the State Bar of Texas.

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