Mentoring Millennials

The Bencher—January/February 2018

By Joseline Jean-Louis Hardrick, Esquire

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody—a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony, or a few nuns—bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”
—Thurgood Marshall

This quote references the popular American ideology that individuals should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” as a way to improve their lot in life. But, as Justice Thurgood Marshall explicitly acknowledges, everyone needs help maneuvering the maze that is life and career, even U.S. Supreme Court justices.

I have had several mentors throughout my life; they have included teachers, classmates, and colleagues. I entered into many of these relationships through formal mentoring programs created by local and national voluntary bar associations and student organizations.

I have also found mentors in less formal ways. I had both types at my first job out of law school. I was assigned a mentor, who gave very good advice. Unfortunately, much of the meaning was lost in translation as I struggled to understand the office politics. My informal mentor helped to fill in the gaps. We shared a similar background, and, as I would find out as our relationship developed, similar struggles. She was skilled at translating the office lingo and helped me understand the unwritten rules of the office.

I’ve come to realize that generational differences can be quite beneficial when it comes to mentoring. Generation Xers and baby boomers have a lot of great advice to offer to millennials—and millennials can teach the older generations a few things as well.

Millennials now make up the largest segment of the workforce, according to the Pew Research Center. Pew defines millennials as those born between 1981 and 1997, Generation X as those born between 1965 and 1980, and baby boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964.

“Millennial” connotes youth in all of its idealistic, impatient, splendid glory. This generation of Americans grew up with access to numerous media channels, including cable television and the internet. They came of age with relative peace and witnessed several historic events, including the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the November 8, 2008, election of the first black president of the United States. They are also the first generation to grow up with ready access to advanced electronics, especially the smartphone.

However, many of them graduated from college and graduate school at a time when job creation and hiring were on the decline. The housing bubble burst in the last quarter of 2008, and many of them had several thousands of dollars in educational debt and no well-paying job to show for it. They lived through the Great Recession, in which they not only struggled to find employment, but also watched their family members and friends lose jobs, promotion opportunities, businesses, and retirement accounts. These experiences shaped their realities. Many of the experiences gave millennials the sense that everything was possible, easily achievable, and instant! Other experiences may have given the impression that hard work and loyalty did not pay off after all. Despite perceived shortcomings, millennials tend to be optimistic, frugal, and much more educated than previous generations.

As such, the old mentoring models will not work well with millennials. For example, a more senior attorney’s experience and generic seniority are unlikely to impress a millennial. Millennials are looking for innovation and disruption of the legal industry. They seek a high quality of life, not just a high income, and are not willing to toil away for long hours in the hopes of getting a benefit many years in the future. They like immediate results and will work hard to get them.

Overall, millennials are very entrepreneurial, well-connected socially, and adept at using technology to obtain clients and practice law. They are also skeptical of the traditional rules and are not generally interested in the “one size fits all” promotion tracks offered at traditional law firms, corporations, and government agencies. They are willing to try new ways to grow business, earn money, obtain experience, and solve problems. And they crave flexibility, ownership, and meaning in their work.

Many employers in the legal industry agree that they have to approach millennials differently to get the high-quality work, commitment, and longevity to which they are accustomed. Therefore, mentors should communicate to millennials that participating in a mentoring relationship provides mutual benefits now and later. Experienced attorneys need to approach millennials in a way that exhibits flexibility to create productive and meaningful mentoring relationships. The following is a discussion of models and guidelines for mentoring millennials.

Formal Mentoring

Formal mentoring programs are typically found through an employer, bar associations, or other organized groups. These programs typically assign a mentee to a more experienced attorney, such as a senior associate or partner. The programs hold events and specific activities for the participants and may provide formal guidance to assist with developing the relationship. Other programs are formal only to the extent that they match participants and then allow them to proceed as desired.

Formal mentoring programs have many benefits. They allow someone who is new to the industry or community to meet others relatively quickly, and they can match participants based on practice area or specific need. The drawback can be that the participants can lack chemistry. In that case, it is fine for either participant to end the relationship.

Informal Mentoring

Informal mentoring happens more organically. As lawyers get to know people through their employer or participation in bar associations and volunteer activities, they will instinctively start to recognize a personality match with someone more experienced. The potential mentee can either approach someone and ask for formal mentoring, reach out to that person on occasion, or seek advice as needed without an official mentoring relationship. Potential mentors can do the same.

Ideal Roles and Attributes for Mentors and Mentees

Mentors should be confident, transparent, available, and flexible. They should provide coaching and counseling. The mentors’ job is not necessarily to shape mentees into a specific image, but to allow mentees to grow and mature on their own path.

Mentees should be coachable and appreciative of the mentors’ time and energy. They should also take initiative in reaching out to mentors and prepare for meetings in advance. Mentees should take time to understand themselves better, including identifying strengths and weaknesses, so as to get the full benefit of the advice offered from more seasoned lawyers. Mentees should also be flexible. They should not give up too quickly if their mentors do not respond right away to a call or email, as seasoned lawyers are typically much busier than new attorneys and law students.

Both mentors and mentees should be able to communicate well, have a commitment to the mentoring relationship, and be willing to commit the time to grow the relationship and make it beneficial to all parties involved.

Specific Tips for Mentoring Millennials

Virtual mentoring is a great option for millennials. In virtual mentorships, mentees should take note of the virtual mentors’ verbal abilities, body language, leadership style, and any other traits that can be modeled by observation.

Millennials will also enjoy reverse mentoring because it increases their contribution and level of importance in the relationship. They want to contribute to every relationship in a significant way. Providing important feedback that is not only embraced, but implemented and acknowledged in some way, will go a long way to increasing a millennial’s commitment.

Mentors should help millennials find meaning in the practice of law by pointing them to pro bono cases and career tracks that may be more fulfilling and in line with their values. They should give structured and regular feedback; criticism and encouragement are equally important. Mentors should embrace millennials’ love of technology by communicating quick messages through texts and social media platforms to keep in touch. And mentors must be flexible and help millennials brainstorm ideas on how to create flexibility at work. Millennials want to work from home or have less-traditional hours. Mentors need to show them how to achieve that goal while still demonstrating a strong work ethic and producing results for their employers and clients.

Start a Mentoring Relationship Today

If you are interested in mentoring, or have done it in the past and are looking to start a new mentoring relationship, you should sign up for the mentoring program in your office, Inn of Court, or local bar association—or start one of your own. Reach out to law students and new attorneys and look for opportunities to provide helpful feedback. A good potential mentee may remind you of your younger self in need of guidance and encouragement or be someone very different from you who shows a lot of potential but needs help “translating” the legal culture. Review your professional relationships and see if there is someone who could use your expertise. Take colleagues out to lunch and ask them some probing questions. The opportunities for potential mentors to develop deeper relationships with acquaintances and colleagues are many.

For more mentoring resources visit the American Inns of Court website or the National Legal Mentoring Consortium.

Joseline Jean-Louis Hardrick, Esquire, is currently a federal judicial law clerk in the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, and is a member of the Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Litigation American Inn of Court in Tampa, Florida.

© 2018 Joseline Jean-Louis Hardrick, Esquire. This article was originally published in the January/February 2018 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the written consent of the American Inns of Court.