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Over the past few columns, I have written about what junior associates can do themselves (and in some cases not do) to help put their careers on the right track. One of the most important things to learn is how to ask for help. Even more important is recognizing the people who are there to provide you with the guidance that you seek — the people who will serve as your mentors throughout your career. There is no magic to finding mentors. Sometimes luck plays a part in developing mentoring relationships. Finding the right mentor can also take work and some initiative on your part. The rule for this article is: Open your eyes and notice the mentors around you. It is easy to assume that early on in your legal careers, many things are beyond your control. This is, of course, true to a certain extent. Rarely will you be able to choose your actual office, select your first assignment (although at my firm you can do so — though I digress) or even control your hours. The nature of the practice at most law firms is that work will “trickle down” to the first- or second-year associates. You should be prepared and do your best when called into action. This is usually the approach that junior associates take toward finding mentors as well. They hope that if they work really hard and do a good job that people will take notice and help to guide them toward future successes. Others hope that formal buddy systems will blossom into fruitful relationships. The truth is that both of these approaches are good ones and certainly can and do work for some people. However, new lawyers can have more control over their fates than they realize. You can be proactive about finding mentors. The best way to start is to look around you and utilize the resources that are available to you. It is true that it may be easy to develop mentorship relationships on the golf course or with colleagues who belong to the same country club. But this is certainly not the way that it has to happen. This is great news for those of us who are terrible golfers and are more interested in Culture Club than country clubs. Your mentors do not have to look like you and do not have to share exactly the same interests. They can be the senior associates who take the extra time to give feedback on your assignments. A colleague who is in your class can provide mentorship in the form of advice on how to tackle a research project that she has done before. A new partner at my law firm gave me some wonderful advice when she was an associate herself. It is advice that I took to heart and that I hope will be helpful to you as well. Try to establish a network of mentors instead of turning to one person for all of the answers. When you have a few people to whom you can turn for help, you will be able to learn from their different styles and develop a range of skill sets at various stages in your career. So how do you get started? I would advise against running up to the first partner that you encounter and yelling “Tag you’re it! Instant mentor!” There are a few tactics you can try that will probably be more productive. Join your city’s bar association and, as your time allows, become active on committees that will broaden the pool of potential mentors. Attend your law school, college or even high school alumni events. There are many networking opportunities with alumni who are often eager to share their experience and provide advice to more recent graduates. Talk to your classmates and fellow junior associates about their experiences. They can be a terrific source of moral support that we often seek exclusively from more senior attorneys. All of this advice has come from my own network of mentors. When I realized how many people around me can serve as mentors I viewed my career development in an entirely different way. One of my mentors is a partner with whom I may never work. She is an attorney in a different practice area whom I met while interviewing for a position as an associate. We had a great conversation about the law firm and her approach to balancing her life inside and outside of the office. When I returned to the firm as an associate, I sought her out to continue the conversation, and the guidance that she has provided to me over the past few years has been invaluable. Another of my mentors may not even realize that he fills a mentorship role for me. This mentor is a partner in my department with whom I work often and have learned a great deal from during the course of that working relationship. Another truly inspirational mentor is an attorney who I met at a law school networking event a few weeks before my 1L year started. She gave me her business card and encouraged me to call her — and I did. Instant mentor! That was almost five years ago and I am still fortunate to count her as a very important advisor, mentor and friend. Natasha Kohne, a fellow columnist, wrote a wonderful article about obstacles that minorities face in trying to establish mentoring relationships in law firms. This is a very serious issue and it is important that the leadership at law firms pays attention to it and takes on the responsibility of focusing resources and contributing time toward addressing it. I am happy to see some law firms taking the initial steps to engage in such efforts and I hope that it will yield positive results. Hopefully, law firms will continue to do the work that is necessary to provide equal access to mentoring opportunities for all associates. While those efforts are in progress we can also try to take some admittedly smaller steps to try to identify the mentors-in-waiting that we encounter each day. We will obviously need some willing participants in order for this plan to work. Do your part and be optimistic that they will do their part as well. There is no question that law firm practice can at times seem as intimidating as it is rewarding. However, there are people who can help to make the process a lot easier. Look around you and go find them. Take advantage of their collective wisdom and learn from their successes and their mistakes. Tag, you’re it. Sharon C. Brooks is an associate in the New York office of Los Angeles-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

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