Many organizations offer programs that connect young lawyers with more experienced colleagues. A bit of wisdom can help you shape your new career!
A little over a year ago, a Ghanaian man facing deportation walked into lawyer Marie Aziz’s Montreal office and pleaded with her to help him stay in the country. “I felt bad for him because he was so upset,” says Aziz, who runs a solo practice dealing with family and immigration law.
When the man later left Canada voluntarily – without paying her fees – Aziz dialed her mentor, Robin Schiller, a partner in the general practice firm of Handelman, Handelman & Schiller, to seek advice about billing practices.
“She worked by herself and had no one to reach out to,” Schiller recalls of her mentee. That day she helped Aziz determine how much to ask clients for upfront. “She told me what’s a reasonable amount to request for different types of cases,” Aziz says. “She said that some can get complicated and to not be shy about what it will cost and to get an advance.”
Why a mentor?
Having access to that kind of useful advice is one reason why young lawyers can benefit from having a mentor. A mentor is an experienced lawyer who provides career guidance and offers advice and encouragement. They can become a lifelong friend and counsel, or simply help a young lawyer get started on the right track.
Mentors act as something of a professional parent. Being able to pick up the phone, have a meeting or send an email to a mentor in a time of need can be of great help and comfort for someone starting out in the legal profession. A mentor can be a source of contacts and connections early in a career, and they can also provide the perspective of someone who has been through similar situations.
Since being paired close to two years ago through a mentoring program run by the Bar of Montreal, Schiller says she has provided verbal support for Aziz to help her build confidence before court appearances. She also offered insight into dealing with clients, interacting with opposing counsel, and other aspects of a law practice. One thing she doesn’t do is offer advice about specific cases.
“The direction from the Bar is that we’re not supposed to give legal advice,” she says. “You’re only hearing half the story or a quarter of the story [from your mentee]. If you’re not the one living with the file then you shouldn’t give advice.”