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How to Snag a Mentor (and Maybe a Job)

Vivia Chen

March 21, 2012

 © AVAVA - Fotolia.comToday's guest blogger is Michael Maslanka, managing partner of the Dallas office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith. The following post is adapted from a version that appeared in Texas Lawyer.

5 Tips on Getting a Mentor

by Michael Maslanka

During three decades of practice, I’ve won and lost a lot of cases and have been on both sides of the desk, as an employee and a boss. I see a lot of resumes as managing partner of my firm’s Dallas office. I’m a member of the American Inns of Court, a group that devotes time to mentoring. I spend a fair amount of time with 3Ls and new lawyers seeking counsel on their careers. I get e-mails lots of them—from the future-lawyers cohort. They ask if I can help them. Some of them are looking for advice, and some are looking for help finding a job.

Here are five things a new lawyer or lawyer-to-be should do when approaching another attorney for guidance.

1.  Be humble—but don't beg for a job. If someone asks to meet me as if he is setting up a job interview, I politely decline. No one wants to be treated as an item on a checklist or a mere means to an end. What works? Humility. Before seeking a meeting, ask yourself why you’re interested in the veteran lawyer’s practice area—be specific. Then, explain why you're seeking the senior attorney's help and ask to meet for coffee. The primary goal of the meeting should be information, not a job offer.

2. Be armed with questions. When I give an opening statement, I tell the jury that their time is valuable and I will not waste it. The same thing is true of a meeting.

You should come prepared with questions—specific, pertinent questions. A few months ago, I met with a 3L who was ready with a list of questions: What do you know about these law firms? Should I have one resume or several? Can you look at my resume and tell me what you think? She had it all outlined on a sheet of paper. I told her at the end she could use my name when she contacted other attorneys. Had she come unprepared, I would not have been so forthcoming.

3. Don't pull a Sarah Palin. If you're meeting with a senior lawyer in a specific practice area, show your interest by discussing the latest developments in the field; you might mention some relevant blogs and articles that interest you. In other words, be engaged.

Recall Katie Couric's interview with Sarah Palin during the elections? When Couric asked what Palin read, the governor drew a blank. I mention this not as a political statement but as a practical one: Be prepared.

4. Create contact capital. Here is a universal truth for job-seekers: The first person you approach likely will not be hiring. But that person’s law school pal may know someone, who knows someone else, who does have a position open. Getting a job is, at least initially, not about interviews but about creating “contact capital.”

As Steve Jobs said in Wired magazine in 1996, “Creativity is just connecting things. . . . A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.”

Same with looking for a job: Contacts are the dots. Sooner or later, enough dots will
lead to sufficient connections and trigger critical mass.

5. Keep in touch. It is nice to get a thank-you note or an e-mail after an informational interview. But do more than that: Send a holiday card. Follow the lawyer on Twitter. E-mail a link to an article that may interest him. Why is this important? Practicing lawyers meet many new faces and will forget them in the absence of continuing contact.

Maintaining contact is your job—not mine. Doing so pays off. One lawyer I met over breakfast started a blog and sends me links from time to time. Another follows me on Twitter and re-tweets some of my posts. Who do I remember? I have already sent some business to the first and hope to do so to the second.

If you're prepared to do the above, you need not hesitate to contact a senior lawyer for advice. As a  lawyer in Dallas, I know Texans expect no more from others than they expect of themselves. But I also think this approach is universal because it taps to some of our deepest need to pay back a karmic debt we owe others.

So plug away even if you live in cities with less collegial reputations, like New York or L.A. Geography can be trumped.

 Related posts: "When Your Mentor Is Not Into You"; "Where's My Mentor?"

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

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always timely...thanks!

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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