At some point in our lives, we were all beginners. We may start our careers with the fear of failure or worry that we have no idea what we are doing. We may struggle with the imposter syndrome, and the thoughts of doubt that can creep in.
But as our careers unfold, we recognize the wisdom we have gained and the valuable experience we have obtained. We have an obligation to pass on that knowledge to those at the beginning of their careers.
Mentors share their gifts of time, wisdom and example, but the benefits a mentor receives in return go far beyond the satisfaction of “paying it forward.” Mentorship is a mutually beneficial investment that matters to your career progression, the success of your organization and your personal growth.
Perspective of a Mid-Level Associate – Lindsey Groos
My first day at Greenberg Traurig stands out in my memory. My entire body was buzzing with anticipation when I walked into the office. I felt the nervousness of being a beginner at a large firm. A few weeks after arriving, I received an email that changed the course of my firm experience: The firm had sent information regarding my assigned mentor.
I could not have been more delighted to be a part of GT’s mentorship program. I was thrilled that I would have someone in my corner, someone to go to with questions or concerns. Having another person focused on helping me lifted a weight off my chest.
I’ve had previous mentors – albeit brief ones. It often seemed that asking for mentorship was akin to putting a thorn into my potential mentor’s side; after all, they were busy, successful people at the pinnacle of their careers. It’s humbling sometimes to raise your hand and admit that you could use guidance from a colleague that has come before you. And sometimes it is disappointing to hear that someone doesn’t have time for you.
However, this time was different. Not only have my firm mentors and other shareholders been eager to assist and provide guidance, but they also have opened up and revealed their personal experiences to me, weaving the tapestry of their careers, line by line. Finding a mentor who can truly see you, who can recognize their own younger self in you, is incredibly rewarding. I’ve benefitted by relating to and with my mentors – I’ve picked up their advice and carried it in my own way. I’ve given them a chance to revisit their career journeys. But most of all, I’ve gained a safe space to discuss issues that are important to me. I appreciate my mentors for showing me solutions – how to increase my efficiency, what to prioritize, what to tweak, what’s truly important at the end of the day, and ultimately how to provide the best authentic client service.
What I remind myself is: Don’t put these gifts on the shelf. Take them out into the light and use them creatively in ways that make sense for your unique practice.
Now that I have acquired some experience and know-how in my practice, I’ve been eager to share what I’ve learned. Even as a midlevel associate, you still can help someone younger than you. This past year, I’ve had the privilege of mentoring 1Ls at SMU College of Law through the Avocate program for women and through volunteering with SMU College of Law’s mock interview programs.
Being a mentor has filled me with a new sense of purpose. Meeting with people who are open to feedback, who allow for vulnerability with you and who learn from you is an incredibly rewarding experience. When we learn and grow from our mentors, maintaining open lines of communication and curiosity, and when we pass on those lessons and skills that we’ve acquired to others, we are both utilizing the gifts that we’ve been given and exercising generosity in our profession at the same time. To build up others is to build up yourself. It’s a vote for the best version of you, that says, “I am someone who can receive help, adapt, be thankful and then have courage enough to share that knowledge.”
Perspective of a Shareholder – Lou Ann Brunenn
Time brings perspective. I’ve had the privilege of practicing law for almost 30 years and can see the value in sharing my perspective with others who are just starting in their profession. My mentors were those that I admired for selflessly sharing their knowledge, giving advice or serving as sounding boards. But now that I serve as a mentor to others, I’ve realized that the intangible gifts I have received in my role as a mentor far outweigh my investment of time and energy in the mentoring relationship. Being a mentor is a privilege that has provided me with both personal and professional fulfillment.
To be an effective mentor, I cannot just tell “war stories” about pulling all‑nighters or dealing with difficult opposing counsel. Instead, I must listen carefully and honor my mentees with the gift of my undivided attention and presence. By taking the space and time to listen to a mentee, rather than simply offering quick solutions, I have become a more empathetic person. I can relate to an associate that is thinking about changing their practice area since I decided to switch from litigation to corporate finance as a senior associate. I grew my practice while raising three children, so I can empathize with my mentees who are navigating client demands while juggling doctor appointments for a sick toddler.
The more honest I am with my mentees about my own experiences, the more empathetic I have become. This gift of empathy has led to more effective collaboration with both my clients and colleagues and helped me to build trust with those I work with.
I’ve also experienced the gift of personal fulfillment from serving as a mentor. I believe that true fulfillment comes from helping others. And this is borne out by independent research. In a study published by the Harvard Business Review, researchers observed that mentors experience lower anxiety levels and perceive their jobs as more meaningful.
While my colleagues often express their appreciation for the time I invest in them, I find myself reflecting upon and appreciating the mentors I had in my career. My mentors listened without judgment, constantly encouraged me and shared their insights and experiences without expecting anything in return. With the benefit of hindsight, I can also appreciate the challenges I faced in my practice and recognize how those obstacles affected my career path. For me, mentoring provides an opportunity for self‑reflection and leads to greater job satisfaction.
Finally, I believe that a mentorship relationship produces long-term benefits for both the mentee and the mentor. As a mentor, I’ve had the opportunity to build my leadership and communication skills. Those talents are vital to my work with clients and future business development efforts. I am continuing to hone my skills in providing honest and effective feedback. Mentees who graciously accept – and learn from – that feedback are far more successful than those who fail to recognize the value of that insight. Likewise, I have become better at recognizing and acknowledging my own strengths and weaknesses. By sharing both my successes and failures with my mentees, I am providing them with an authentic example and, at the same time, building my self‑confidence.
Whether you are just starting in your career or have acquired years of experience, we all have something remarkable to contribute to a mentor‑mentee relationship. It is rewarding to share our knowledge and wisdom with others. But mentorship should not be viewed simply as an act of service. An investment of time in a mentoring relationship can lead to personal growth for both the mentor and the mentee.
The gifts of guidance, example, innovation, advice, empathy, authenticity, generosity, trust, communication, self-reflection, collaboration, appreciation, leadership and fulfillment are fundamental to our own success as well as the success of our profession. Ultimately, we must recognize and value these many gifts of mentorship.
Lou Ann Brunenn, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, LLP, focuses her practice on structuring and documenting secured and unsecured credit facilities for financial institutions and corporate borrowers. She frequently represents lead arrangers and agents in a wide variety of large corporate and middle-market syndicated transactions, including cash flow and asset-based facilities, acquisition financings, sponsor-led financings, letter of credit facilities, and multi-currency facilities.
Lindsey M. Groos, an associate at Greenberg Traurig, LLP, has experience representing banks, financial institutions, investors, and developers in acquisitions and dispositions, including mortgage lending, asset-based financing, and intercreditor agreements.
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