Mentoring, like everything else during this pandemic, is hard. I serve as one of the chairs of my firm’s mentoring program. Pre-pandemic, I took my mentees to lunch once a month, and regularly stopped by their offices to chat and check in. We also had a quarterly lunch where all of the mentors and mentees got together for a group lunch to talk about a variety of topics. In the last few years, we also started having an off-campus social event a few times a year to get together outside of work. As you can imagine, we are not doing these activities right now, or at least not in the same way. In fact, I called one of my mentees the other day and said, “I have been a horrible mentor this last year. I am sorry. I don’t know how to do this remotely.”
And that is the truth, I don’t know how to effectively mentor our young lawyers remotely; it’s a new skill that I am trying to learn, along with taking depositions remotely, conducting a trial remotely, and mediating remotely. It’s all hard, even a year later.
So, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to do a better job engaging our young lawyers, how to train them remotely, and how to get through this pandemic without losing the fabric of the relationships that we built or were building before March 2020. Here are some ideas that have been on my mind:
A Call Anytime Policy
In our prior lives, I bet most of us had an “open-door policy.” With no office (and no door), what does that policy look like now? With the increased use of texting and emails, phone calls are becoming fewer and farther between. I get the sense that the younger generation either feels that a phone call is bothering the person they are calling, or is just a general inconvenience. But it is not an inconvenience, and it is all we have right now (other than Zoom, but more on that later). Phone calls are needed more than ever now with our inboxes stuffed full of emails (because no one wants to make a phone call). With remote work, we need to use phone calls to maintain our connections. Instead of an open-door policy, why not institute a call anytime policy? I encourage our young lawyers to call me. If I am on a call or not available, I will call them back. Same as if they would have come to my office door and I was not available. But it’s important to emphasize that just because I am at home working does not mean that I am not available. We need to figure out how to communicate when we can’t walk down the hall and talk to each other.
I know, more virtual meetings. I am tired of them too. But, like phone calls, we have to work with what we have. And in-person communication is key to staying connected to our young lawyers. One possibility is setting a virtual meeting once a month (or week) by Zoom (or other virtual technology). These meetings can have structured topics for discussion, or simply be a time to catch up. Consider setting aside 10-15 minutes. Enough time to be meaningful, but not too much time to take away from other work issues. Another option is to encourage your firm to have group virtual socials, which both you and your mentee attend. Our firm has done Super Bowl trivia, “name that tune,” and general virtual happy hours that, although better in person, are fun and have allowed me to see my colleagues when I would not otherwise during this pandemic.
Take Your Mentee to Court!
Part of mentoring is teaching young lawyers how to practice law. Pre-pandemic, it wasn’t always feasible to take the junior lawyer on the case to a deposition or a hearing in another city or state. Now, with virtual practice, the cost is much less and provides the ability to expose young lawyers to numerous proceedings that they otherwise would not be able to attend. What better opportunity than now to get them in the courtroom, involved in the litigation process, or in making deals happen? All you have to do is invite them. (And young lawyers, don’t be afraid to ask your senior lawyers if you can attend a proceeding that appears interesting to you).
I live in Florida, where the pandemic response has been nothing short of “what pandemic?” and we can eat and drink outside virtually year-round, so for us, we can still try to get together with our peers occasionally. Since my realization that I had not seen one of my mentees in almost a year, I have made more of an effort to try to meet for lunch, dinner, or drinks. Although my friends in the colder states may not have this flexibility, spring is just around the corner. If you and your colleagues feel comfortable, try it!
Like I said, pandemic living isn’t easy, as over the last year we have been adjusting to the new normal, waiting to go back to the old normal, and realizing normal is either a long way off or never coming back. We have to continue to mentor and teach young lawyers, and find new ways to do so. These are some of the limited options I have come up with for now. If you have other ideas, I would love to hear them.
About the Author
Amy L. Drushal is a shareholder at Trenam Law in Tampa, Florida and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Amy currently serves as Law Practice Today’s Editor in Chief.