LLM Students and Graduates Need Mentors

What is a Mentor?
The word mentor comes from the character "Mentor" in Homer's epic tale, The Odyssey. Mentor was a trusted friend of Odysseus, the king of Ithaca. When Odysseus fought in the Trojan War, Mentor served as friend and counsel to Odysseus' son Telemachus. The Cambridge dictionary defines a mentor as “a person who gives a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a time, especially at work or school.”

What a Mentor is Not
Many misunderstand a mentor as a potential source of some particular result, like a job. A job placement counselor is not a mentor. We must not approach prospective mentors with any expectation of landing an internship, a job, a client, or anything else concrete. Like networking more broadly, mentoring relationships must be unfettered by expectations and must be of mutual benefit.

Why Mentors are Important
Mentors encourage and enable our professional and personal development. Mentors can serve as a source of knowledge, help us set and meet goals, offer feedback, and help us make connections. Most LLM students have not yet been in the U.S. for very long, so a mentor can help with cultural adjustment.

How to Find One
Many recommend asking someone to mentor us as we would ask someone out on a date. To me, this is inappropriate. Mentoring relationships develop naturally and over time. The words mentor or mentee are rarely used explicitly in the context of such a relationship, but when a mentoring connection emerges, it is understood by both parties. LLM students who put themselves in situations in which they can meet more seasoned lawyers position themselves to build meaningful mentoring relationships. We can be active in bar and other trade associations, which offer the opportunity to leverage affiliations with professionals who share common interests; we can volunteer to help at conferences and other events, which gives us access to organizers and participants; and we can reach out to people who we admire and would like to meet. When we do this, we must have something specific to discuss, preferably based on some area of commonality or mutual interest.

LLM students who embrace the value of a mentor/mentee relationship will build potential friendships for life and utilize an asset many overlook.

Desiree Jaeger-Fine is a writer and author of Pursuing Happiness: One Lawyer’s Journey, A Short & Happy Guide to Networking, and A Short & Happy Guide to Being Hired.