By Jessica Wood (B.A. ’83, J.D. ’94)
As lawyers, our practice includes the constant process of teaching others. And if you already have a mentee (or several), you know about reverse mentoring: even experienced practitioners have much to learn. You can give back to others and reap the benefits of mentoring. Here are some ideas that you can implement today, with particular focus on mentoring women.
Although women are not a homogeneous group, we encounter similar implicit biases and unhelpful behavior from institutions and individuals. Obstacles are multiplied for women of color. To better understand how you can help empower women, excellent resources are just a click away. One study commissioned by the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers examines why women leave law firms at higher rates than men, noting lower salaries, lower job satisfaction, lack of autonomy and a feeling of “misfit.” How can you be part of the solution?
Start with an existing relationship.
Mentoring relationships do not require an engraved invitation. Look around you and offer to meet a law student, practitioner or judge who may benefit from your wisdom. If you are approached for guidance, give the amount of time that is sensible for your schedule. You may spend a few minutes critiquing a resume or serve as a champion by publicly praising accomplishments or nominating your mentee for a key committee or board position. If you work directly with your mentee, ensure that she has substantive work, and introduce her to clients and their team. She should be invited to celebrations, particularly if she played a role in the litigation or transactional/deal-closing victory. Check in with her to see whether your advice is helpful. Introduce her to others who can serve in a similar role: it takes a village to raise an attorney.
Recognize and exercise your power.
Be alert to your own firm’s policies (or lack thereof) that may impact women attorneys. If a change is needed, be a catalyst. If you are with a mentee in a meeting, at a deposition, in court or elsewhere, be cognizant of how others treat her. It’s not uncommon for women attorneys to be mistaken for court reporters or to be called derogatory names such as “Little Missy.” If this happens to your mentee, take action. If she is harassed take action. If your mentee is interrupted or talked over, amplify her contributions: “As Mentee just pointed out, . . .” If she communicates an idea that is ignored and someone else takes credit for that idea later, correct the record. And please give her a (literal) seat at the table.
Rethink the status quo.
Do you typically give your best advice on the links or over drinks? Be thoughtful when you extend invitations. Not everyone golfs. And not everyone imbibes (for health, religious and/or cultural reasons). Consider a trek on the BeltLine. Work together on a pro bono case. Co-author an article or book chapter. Volunteer at a shelter together. Meet your mentee at a CLE or bar networking event and introduce her to your contacts.
Ask your mentee for ideas; this is where reverse mentoring comes in. Benefit from her perspective. Find out if she knows your opposing counsel or the judge in your case. Seek input on a legal question of mutual interest. Her vantage point, contacts and knowledge are useful to you. And if you give her an opportunity to dazzle in a professional setting, you have a success story that you can tell others.
Make a point of helping others because it is the right thing to do. Ideally, mentoring enhances our understanding of others from different generations, backgrounds and skill sets. When viewed expansively, anyone could be our mentee or mentor. And when you mentor a woman, it gives you a pivotal role in retaining and promoting more women attorneys, which benefits our profession, clients and community.
Jessica Wood (J.D. ’94) is a principal at Bodker, Ramsey, Andrews, Winograd & Wildstein, P.C. She focuses on business litigation, including business torts, contracts, director and officer liability, employment, minority shareholder and trade secret issues. She created Water Cooler Office Hours, an innovative mentoring program for law students. Visit www.brawwlaw.com for more information.