career tips

[OPINION] Why you need mentors

John Molo

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[OPINION] Why you need mentors
'Much of who I am today is a product of their guidance. It's like an invisible business card.'

The Bar exams just ended. What a relief for those who spent 5 to 6 months reviewing for it. Now that it’s done, graduates start to think about where to apply for their first job. This may sound simple. But, in looking for a first job, what exactly are you looking for?

 “Training” is often the first reply. “Pay” is also top of mind, which is fair. Law school isn’t cheap. And when you add the cost of Bar review, that’s a lot of investment to recoup. A “nice office” usually comes next, followed by “prestige/brand.” Lately, a lot of graduates are putting a premium on “work-life balance.” 

These are all proper considerations in the search for a place to start one’s career. I feel however that all too often one item is overlooked: a mentor. A hefty salary or beautiful offices are nice things to have, but none of these can be as life changing as finding a real mentor. 

We call the first 5 years of lawyering as its formative years. It’s where one’s work ethic gets shaped. In a profession where there’s ten ways to skin the same cat, figuring out which methodology aligns with one’s values isn’t easy. Mentors can guide you through this process. You want a career that aligns with your values? Invest in searching for a mentor who will respect, and support that. 

There’s also a practical reason why I advise my students to find mentors. While new lawyers enter the profession knowing literally everything about the law (thanks to the Bar exams) they know, nearly nothing about how to actually get things done. And when you end up in an office that follows a “sink or swim” approach, daily life can be a struggle. Mentors help you navigate pitfalls, allowing a more efficient (and happier) experience.

They also provide direction on which field of law you are best suited for. This lowers the risk of being pigeon-holed into a practice area. If you ever feel that a field is not the right “fit” for you, a real mentor would be able to coach you through it. Sometimes the solution doesn’t involve breaking barriers but going around them. A mentor knows how. 

Searching for a mentor isn’t easy. They aren’t found in a flyer or during a recruitment dinner. Finding one means a lot of research and digging. You’ll need to look into an office’s history, not just its current roster. You need to talk to people who work there, and more importantly, to those who no longer do.  

Setting expectations

You are looking for someone who sets expectations or targets. Because, as I often counsel young lawyers, a mentor isn’t a buddy. Yes, they have the potential to become lifelong friends but, (and this is crucial) for your first few years working with them, don’t confuse them with the people you party with. Maintain a separate support group. Those who can help you unwind after work. 

On the other hand, mentorship isn’t as simple as making someone work ungodly hours. Saddling people with work is a remarkably easy thing for bosses to do. Real mentors, however, do it with integrity and purpose. And that purpose is not to get rich or higher in the ladder out of your efforts. Be mindful of how you invest your time.   

A key part of mentoring is giving feedback. Especially if it’s negative feedback. This isn’t easy, especially in a “hiya”- obsessed culture such as ours. A good mentor however is so invested in your long-term growth that she would prioritize it over keeping “bad news” away from you. 

As you may have surmised by now, mentors are people who willingly make time to engage/teach others. Considering how busy lawyers are, that’s not something that you stumble upon by accident. Mentoring requires commitment. And the sad reality is, it cannot be done en masse. As each person is unique, mentoring styles will be different. And often, finding a match is a deeply personal process. 

Invisible business card

It is possible that the mentor you want won’t be available. The question then becomes whether you want to enter that organization and take a chance that the person will be free some time later. The good news is that there are more than enough lawyers out there willing to be good mentors. Of course, being busy with their own concerns, it will take some effort to discover and connect with them. Then again, anything worthwhile is almost never easily gained. 

What I can assure you is that in a profession like lawyering, there will always be those who find joy in shaping the future. There’s that kind of satisfaction in seeing young minds you’ve nurtured over the years take on leadership roles. The goal of the younger generation is to exceed the older. Because that’s how we evolve. By building on the gains earned by those who came before. 

Yes, find a place where you’ll be happy going to work to. But don’t overlook the importance of finding someone you’ll be inspired to work with, and in the future be proud to say, you have worked for. Because that’s another benefit from having a mentor – it’s like an invisible business card. In a profession as small as ours, the answer to “who did you work for” is often how new paths are uncovered, or lost. 

As a young lawyer decades past, I was lucky enough to find a place that had people who gave me a sense of fulfillment. They helped me make sense of all the things being thrown at me during my first few years of work. As I grew in the profession, I found new mentors that allowed me to hone my skills further. Much of who I am today is a product of their guidance. This is what good mentors do. And I hope that every young graduate finds one. 

Happy job hunting. And may the odds be always in your favor. –

John Molo practices commercial litigation and arbitration. He worked in the Supreme Court under then-justice Antonio Carpio, and worked with the late senator Edgardo J. Angara. Together with retired justice Vicente V. Mendoza, he has handled landmark cases before the Supreme Court. He is a past president of the Harvard Law School Alumni Association

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