Posted by Charles A. Volkert on Tuesday, July 1, 2014 - 00:00 | Follow me
Attorneys of different generations bring valuable expertise to law firms and corporate law offices, adding to the collective knowledge in unique ways. And sharing this knowledge is not just a one-way street. Reverse mentoring, as a part of your legal practice management, can switch up the traditional top-down mentoring model. It can help bridge the knowledge gap between senior and newer legal professionals and provide flexibility for everyone in the office to participate in teaching others new skills.
For associates, reverse mentoring provides opportunities to take on additional leadership roles earlier in their careers and to feel more connected to the firm and its partners. It can even give them a better sense of what the challenges and expectations are at the top. Reverse mentoring also shows associates that the firm is invested in their success.
Encourage younger associates and experienced attorneys to partner with one another when they each have specialized knowledge or information to share. For example, senior lawyers could offer advice on working more effectively with challenging clients; and associates could bring a partner up to speed on the newest ediscovery software or why a more flexible approach to work is valued by their generation.
Following are pointers to help partners and senior corporate attorneys implement a reverse mentoring program:
Select the right mentors and mentees. Start by recognizing that each member of the pair can teach the other something new. Match up legal professionals who are most likely to learn from each other, such as younger associates who can help experienced attorneys better understand current law office technologies, and veteran attorneys who can share information about the organization’s culture or best practices for managing project teams. Mutual respect and professionalism must be the cornerstone of the relationship. Choose individuals who are capable of teaching others without becoming impatient or frustrated. Potential younger mentors should be able to communicate with older or more senior-level workers without arrogance or condescension.
Address potential problems up front. While less traditional mentoring arrangements are gaining popularity, you may need to address some potential hurdles at the outset — such as participants’ preconceived notions about who should be in the role of the “teacher” or “student” in the relationship.
Set guidelines for the relationship. Ask mentors and mentees to develop an objective for their relationships and clearly define expectations. Establish how often they'll communicate; and determine a timeline for when they expect to reach their goals. After the initial meeting, step back and let the relationship build, only checking in periodically to see if it's working well for both parties.
Consider the time mentoring will take. Be sure that both parties will have sufficient time available to make the relationship worthwhile. You shouldn’t have to talk people into assuming this role; instead, when you are seeking out participants, speak with them upfront about their willingness to participate in mentoring relationships.
Reverse mentoring doesn’t always occur spontaneously. Paving the way is part of management's responsibility for people in an array of legal jobs. Even if the firm or company doesn't develop a mentoring program, partners and managers should create an environment where attorneys are motivated to seek help from each other, work together collaboratively and share knowledge. Doing so will likely strengthen the commitment and loyalty of all parties in your organization.
For more information on reverse mentoring, visit Robert Half Legal.