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Effective mentoring helps minimize staff turnover woes

A well-designed and well-managed mentoring program can have a major positive impact upon the career development and retention of associates in law firms big and small, says Bianca Moreiras, a law firm consultant, coach and speaker, and CEO of Bianca Moreiras and Associates.

“Over 45 percent of new associates leave their firms by their third year and the top 400 law firms lose over $9 billion annually due to turnover,” she says.

An effective mentoring program can help reduce these costly losses.

What is mentoring?

Mentors are people who have navigated their careers to a point where they can reach back and help others, she says.

“Mentoring is telling the story—being able to give information that someone can take with them and try to mirror what you’ve done through life and then create their own story as well.”

When Moreiras was with her law firm for 20 years, one of her roles was to “pretty much live with my new associates for three months” and talk to them about everything from time and billing, to how to handle clients’ phone calls, to clarifying job assignments, work assignments, research assignments, and being able to develop skills that people aren’t born with.

Align your mentor program with your firm’s goals

Your mentoring program’s goals should be attainable, realistic, precise, and in writing. The goals should also be accessible to everyone and be aligned with your firm’s mission and vision statements.

The first step in developing an effective mentoring program is to look inward at what goals your firm is trying to achieve that will bring out the best in your new associates and ensure that your firm will continue to thrive when senior attorneys retire.

A zero to three-year vision plan should focus on where the firm will be in three years and what its client profile will look like.

A four-to-seven year plan should look at who will be eligible for partnership mentoring and a seven-to-15-year vision should look at when and how a succession plan will be implemented.

“The mentees will hopefully become the mentors and then your firm has life. It will breathe year after year, after year,” she says.

Elements of an effective mentoring program

“A good mentoring plan should be written in a clear, concise vision that meets the firm’s goals. Look at the practices, procedures, and business etiquette of the firm,” says Moreiras, who notes that new associates coming out of law school often have little or no concept of the mechanics of how a law firm works, nor anything about origination and networking.

“We’re not born sales people. Even though we don’t think of ourselves as sales people, we are selling something. We’re selling our ethics, our integrity, our trustworthiness, our diligence. Part of the networking and the origination foundation is teaching those skills to those who don’t have them,” she says, adding, “If you’re not networking, you’re not working.”

Shadowing is another valuable tool in mentoring new associates. They might be invited to sit in on client meetings or given second-chair exposure in courtroom settings.

Time commitment

Moreiras says many attorneys tend to shy away from mentoring because it could interfere with their billable hours and goals that they need to meet or exceed. New associates may also worry about mentoring cutting into their billable hours.

If your firm chooses not to compensate the mentor and mentee, then the time spent should be considered as non-billable time that has value, she says.

How much time should be set aside for mentoring? Moreiras says two to three hours a week can make a big difference and it can be done during a breakfast or lunch meeting or after hours. Most mentoring should be done face-to-face, she recommends, so that a conversation can occur.

Who to mentor

“When you see something in a person that’s special and meets the criteria of your vision and mission statements, then that’s when you should engage them into a solid, structured mentoring program,” she says.

Mentors must be willing to listen, offer guidance, create a comfort zone and share successes and failures. Mentees must also be coachable and recognize the need to learn and mature.

“They must be willing to clearly articulate their expectations on what they hope to gain,” she says.

Of course, not everyone gets along and a mentor may find a mentee abrasive, or be frustrated that the mentee does not listen well or follow directions well.

In many cases these differences can be ironed out in time, but Moreiras says there are situations where the mentee might require a different mentor.

She recommends re-evaluating and re-organizing the process at least every couple of months “to see if you’re on course and the (mutual) likeability is there. Know what’s expected and put it in writing.”


How do you know if your program is successful? According to Moreiras, “the biggest thing a mentor can do is inspire the mentee to know they can achieve anything they want to if they put all their skills to work, if they listen, if they watch, and if they learn.”

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