NEW YORK — How lawyers can best leverage their mentoring, sponsorship and coaching opportunities into a networking strategy that pays dividends in their career development is an important question for new attorneys, especially women and minority professionals.
This subject was discussed in depth at a session at the Women’s Bar Leadership Summit on August 11th entitled, “Career Tools: Integrating Mentoring, Sponsorship, Coaching and Networking for Maximum Effect”. The summit, held at Thomson Reuters’ New York Headquarters at 3 Times Square, was presented by the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations.
The session panel included:
- Martha E. Gifford (Moderator), Law Office of Martha E. Gifford; Past President, Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York; Former Antitrust Practice Chair, Proskauer Rose LLP;
- Lauren Stiller Rikleen, Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership; 2017 ABA Margaret Brent Award Recipient; and author most recently of Ladder Down: Success Strategies for Lawyers from Women Who Will Be Hiring, Reviewing and Promoting You;
- Joseph K. West, Partner and Chief Diversity Officer, Duane Morris LLP; Past President, Minority Corporate Counsel Association; Former Wal-Mart Associate General Counsel, Outside Counsel Global Management; and
- Morgan Fraser Mouchette, Senior Associate, Blank Rome LLP; Diversity Co-Chair & Director, New York Women’s Bar Association.
Gifford, the moderator, began the discussion with a quote from Andy Warhol, who once said: “It’s not what you are, but what you think you are.” She noted that we are still living in a world where women lawyers are still greeted by negative perceptions.
Blank Rome’s Mouchette spoke about her personal experience as an eighth-year associate in her firm, noting that it’s been her mentorship experience has been the constant in her decision to stay at the firm, who took an interest, not only in her career path but also in understanding who she was on a personal level.
Working hard wasn’t enough for her success, she said, adding that one of her greatest aids in success was learning about the pitfalls and politics in the world around her. Information such as this, candidly shared with her, helped her continue on her path with at the firm. She stayed at her firm because she knew, through this process, that there were people who would invest in her success. “It is important to pass these skills along and reinforce the benefits of a diverse organization to colleagues and incoming new lawyers,” she said.
Author Rikleen spoke about not having a mentor in her career, but, instead, having a connection who influenced her to go to law school. Even without a mentor, substitutes could be found outside of one’s organization who could become major influencers, she said.
Gifford noted that mentoring circles — a model created by the American Bar Association (ABA) with the influence of Rikleen’s book — have been vastly successful, adding that there is a huge benefit in having a mentor outside of your firm. However, many firms may not understand or be sensitive to this, she noted, but firms should embrace this and find ways to link to these outside mentoring relationships.
Duane Morris’s West described how sponsorship, which differs from mentorship, was also crucial. Sponsorship, he explained, was someone who could expend resources on your behalf to clear pathways for you, adding that minorities and women might continue to struggle because they had a lack of sponsorship opportunities.
“Law firms should hold leadership accountable for having sponsorships for women or minorities in place,” he said, adding that his mantra, “Include, invest and intercede” — was an important one for firms to adopt in this case.
West went on to add that firms need to educate and infuse accountability. He noted that senior leadership are being held accountable for many metrics at the law firm, but diversity and inclusion metrics need to ensure that assignments are given on an equitable basis, as are partnership decisions and even discussions around who leaves and how they leave. For example, he said Duane Morris gave bias training to senior leadership and staffed a committee that would look at biases around the firm with an eye toward making corrections.
In speaking about coaching, Rikleen noted that she thought of this technique as a professional voice who can help someone think about what their options are in a specific situation. It should be used more often as a tool for younger people than it is today.
Millennials have less political savvy because they’ve had more structure in their lives, she explained, adding that as a result, they may not now have access to the coaches that they may have had in their formative years in the workplace.
“A fundamental shift in thinking is needed around coaching,” Rikleen said, adding that law firms use coaching to deal with bad behavior, but corporations use it to develop talent. “Firms need to institutionalize it as a tool to help level the playing field so they see it as a positive tool to help build and grow careers,” she explained.
The panel noted that it was important not to segment the idea of sponsorships, mentorships or coaching — as one could meet people of influence in many different aspects of one’s life.
During questions, one audience member said that women shouldn’t wait for opportunity to come to them — they should go out and find it. Another attendee added that if you told your firm you wanted coaching under the guise of “sales coaching” they might be more interested in bringing it into the firm.