Mentoring for lawyers has existed since the start of the profession. It was once the only way lawyers became lawyers. By working with a master, lawyers’ brains developed particular grooves. Over time, as apprentices, lawyers learned to read, think and write like lawyers by training with and imitating their more experienced masters.
In the 20th century, law schools became common. By the end of the 20th century most states had abolished formal legal apprenticeship and required law school graduation before a candidate could take the bar exam. (In a paralegal stint before law school, I had the pleasure of working with one of New York State’s last apprenticed lawyers. His skills were none the worse for having missed law school.) So junior lawyers now start their professional life with academic as well as practical and technical training.
Unfortunately, young lawyers are usually not similarly inculcated with rainmaking skills, either in school or on the job. In spite of evidence to the contrary, the profession continues to train lawyers as if client skills are unimportant or at least not teachable. Neither of those things is true. Understanding how to work with and make clients happy is crucial to a lawyer’s professional success, and lawyers at any level of seniority can learn client skills.
Many law firms now have formal career mentoring programs. However, even at firms where lawyers work with institutionally assigned mentors, it is unlikely someone will step forward to teach you the nuances of client relations. In such cases, it is possible to seek and find a rainmaking mentor on your own. Look around. Try to find someone (not necessarily in your firm, and perhaps not even a lawyer, although a service professional will be crucial) who has business, a little bit of time and likes you. Ask that person if she or he is willing to give you an hour or two a month to discuss how to meet and approach possible clients. Most importantly, ask if that person will hold your confidences so that you can raise almost any subject, even if it feels silly. If the two of you do not have schedules that allow regular face-to-face time, these meetings can be phone meetings or e-mail communications on personal e-mail addresses.
If you feel uncomfortable asking someone with more business than you for help because you fear a possible turf war or something else that makes it awkward, you can ask someone at your own rainmaking level (even if that is zero) to be a mutual mentor. Again, confidentiality is key. The two of you can consult with each other about whether to attend certain events, whether and how to chat up particular people in the gym or at a conference and how to create or pursue other business opportunities. Rainmaking is seldom accidental and the best plans are seldom made alone.
Fun fact: In doing research for this particular blog, I learned that in 2012 South Carolina established a mandatory mentoring program for lawyers, http://www.commcle.org/MentoringProgram.html.