How (and Why) to Find a Mentor to Help Guide Your Paralegal Career

Every professional can benefit from a mentor, perhaps paralegals even more so. A mentor can provide you with guidance, both in professional and personal capacities. Your mentor has experiences you can learn from, helping you make better choices in your career. These might be work-related choices or life-related. Either way, you benefit from the wisdom of someone who has “been there, done that.” Having a mentor also expands your network, connecting you to others in your field whom you might not otherwise have a connection to. A mentor can also be a sounding board, providing invaluable feedback on decisions you’re making.

Obviously, you’ll benefit by having a mentor. But where and how do you find one?

Where to look for a paralegal or other type of legal career mentor

Admittedly, you can’t simply call Mentors-R-Us and find someone. Rather, finding a mentor will take effort on your part, but it’s time well spent. Consider it short-term pain for long-term gain.

Without a Mentors-R-Us to turn to, where should you look? Try these possibilities:

  • At work: There might already be a formal system in place for being mentored to. Or perhaps your employer would like to start one. Barring that, it could be someone within your office is willing to act as your mentor.
  • Within organizations you belong to (or could belong to): Do you belong to a professional legal or paralegal organization? Ask if they have a formal mentoring program, or a way to reach out to other members who are willing to mentor.
  • Online: Although the ability to meet in person is probably ideal, be open to mentorship from someone located elsewhere, if they are the best fit. Technology makes it possible to meet via Skype and other means, and you might meet the right mentor through that paralegal LinkedIn group you joined last month.
  • Through your network: As you’ve been slowly building your paralegal network, you’ve made connections who can help. Reach out to that network and ask for assistance in finding a mentor.

What to look for in a paralegal mentor

Once you know where to look, the question becomes, “What do I look for?” When you think of a mentor, you might picture a seasoned veteran with gray hair and decades of experience, but that’s not what you’re likely to find—nor is that person likely to be the best mentor to you at this stage of your career.

So forget about simply looking for someone with loads of experience. Instead, figure out what you want to get from the relationship and use that to guide your search. What’s important to you right now? Career advancement? Work/life balance? Furthering your education? Growing your network? Something else? Look for a mentor excelling in that area as your ideal choice.

When you’re looking, be thinking long-term because you’ll gain more out a mentorship that lasts—but don’t be thinking forever. Although you want to start a long-term relationship with someone as your mentor, it might be that the kind of mentor you need now at this time in your career and your life is not the same kind of mentor you’ll need five, 10 or 20 years from now. Avoid thinking of this person as your “forever” mentor, as you’ll likely need different types of mentors at different stages in your career.

This also opens up possibilities for you as you seek out the right person. If you’re fairly new to your paralegal career, for example, you might want a mentor with only a little more experience than you, because he or she will remember what it was like to be a newbie and offer better advice. If, however, you’re well established in your career, you might want mentorship from that seasoned veteran who has gotten to the next level (whatever that next level is for you), and that is the person you want to emulate and learn from.

How to approach a potential mentor

Before approaching someone about taking on a mentoring role for you, be clear on your expectations and how you picture the relationship working. Know what you want to get out of it. Will you get together for coffee once a month? Schedule monthly phone calls? Will there be an agenda for your get-togethers? Also be sensitive to the other person’s time constraints and make it clear you won’t ask for more than a reasonable time commitment from them.

Later, be a mentor

As you grow in your career, you will become someone who can mentor to others—and you should. There are two reasons for this: One, it’s good to give back when you have benefited, and mentoring to someone gives you that opportunity. Two, you’ll continue to grow and learn from the mentoring relationship even when you’re on the other side of it.