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From the GC: Changing Your Mind About Mentoring Millennial Lawyers

February 25, 2021 3 min read
Legal Matters - Lisa Lang - Mentoring Millennial Lawyers

As an in-house lawyer, you have many responsibilities. Depending on the size of your organization, one of your responsibilities may include recruiting, hiring, and retaining millennial lawyers for your in-house legal department. What does it take to keep your millennial lawyer happy and loyal to your legal department and your organization?

In her article The Ascent of the Millennial In-House Counsel Olesja Cormney tackles this subject noting that because “today’s corporate legal departments often have four generations of lawyers working together,” it is important to “encourage formal or informal mentoring outside of established hierarchical relationships” to promote a culture that allows non-millennial and millennial lawyers to better connect with each other.

Why is it important to encourage mentoring outside of hierarchical relationships?

The Association for Talent Management defines traditional “mentoring” as follows:

Mentoring is a reciprocal and collaborative at-will relationship that most often occurs between a senior and junior employee for the purpose of the mentee’s growth, learning, and career development. Often the mentor and mentee are internal to an organization, and there is an emphasis on organizational goals, culture, and advice on professional development. Mentors often act as role models for their mentee and provide guidance to help them reach their goals.

Mentoring can be formal or informal. In an informal environment, mentees set goals, but they are usually not measurable and the relationships are unstructured. For a formal mentoring relationship, there are actionable and measurable goals defined and set with determined requirements.

Because traditional mentoring programs typically rely on single mentor-mentee matches that are hierarchical in nature, research shows that these programs are unlikely to achieve the intended outcomes. Why?

“[M]any employees—especially women—prefer mentorships with a more reciprocal and mutual character” and that “even the best mentoring programs are unlikely to achieve intended outcomes when the surrounding workplace is competitive and individualistic, and when senior members of the organization only engage in developing junior talent when pursued by a prospective mentee or ‘voluntold’ to participate in formal program.”

How can you envision mentoring differently?

Instead of organizing traditional mentoring programs, consider cultivating a culture that encourages mentors-of-the-moment.

In their article Real Mentorship Starts with Company Culture, Not Formal Programs W. Brad Johnson and David G. Smith flip “the script on mentoring, from an onerous, formal, add-on obligation, to a delightful opportunity to use shorter exchanges to enhance self-esteem, self-confidence, and sense of belonging in someone junior.”

Johnson and Smith describe what a “Mentor-of-the Moment” is and what they do.

Mentors-of-the-moment help to promote a mentoring culture where all members of the organization—especially those in the middle to upper ranks—seek opportunities in daily interactions to develop or grow junior colleagues and peers. The mentor-of-the-moment model flips the script on mentoring, from an onerous, formal, add-on obligation, to a delightful opportunity to use shorter exchanges to enhance self-esteem, self-confidence, and sense of belonging in someone junior.

Mentors-of-the-moment take advantage of daily opportunities to first notice and then engage junior colleagues. They place a high priority on learning names, and they are willing to detour from their schedule to make space for uplifting interactions with others. These momentary exchanges are not heavy lifts, yet they create fertile soil for collegiality, sponsorship, and mentoring. Each involves deliberate interest, encouragement, guidance, and visioning about how the junior person might soar. Yet in aggregate, these momentary interactions bolster self-efficacy, belonging, and excitement regarding career possibilities. Ultimately, they create a context for the formation of transformational relationships.

If you are really committed to transforming how the lawyers in your in-house legal department interact, read these resources and consider transforming how you approach mentoring.

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Lisa Lang currently serves as the General Counsel for Kentucky State University. She is also the creator of the LinkedIn series WHY DO THIS, NOT THAT™, In-house Lawyer Edition and has also co-authored an anthology called #Networked: How 20 Women Lawyers Overcame the Confines of COVID-19 Social Distancing to Create Connections, Cultivate Community, & Build Businesses in the Midst of a Global Pandemic on sale now on Amazon. In April 2021, she will be speaking at the #EmpoweredWomen Spring 2021 Online (Freeman Means Business™ event) that will be held from April 6 to 8 from 9 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. PT about the power of community.