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April 23, 2015


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Derek Tokaz

While it looks like you're focusing on the rather all-in type of mentorship, I hope you'll look at some of the other forms of guidance.

For instance, I've found that one of the most helpful things is simply getting to here someone's narrative about how they got to where they are today. For instance, while stressing about thesis revisions I remembered one of the first visiting writers who I got to see, Eduardo Corral, who had just won the Yale Younger Poets Prize. He talked about how it took him 10 years (working at a Home Depot or something similar) of continued work on his master's thesis from Iowa before he published. Remembering that helped to bring my expectations back down to earth and alleviate a lot of anxiety.

I know there can be an instinct to think "well my narrative won't be relevant, it's such a different path than this person is going to take." But, you should never presume to know what is going to end up being meaningful to someone else.

And if nothing else, it helps to get a sense of the time and effort someone had to put into their work. If all we see are the end results, it can be very easy to become demoralized. It might be counter-intuitive, but it helps to hear that someone put in a ton of effort into something that they got no recognition for, or the recognition was delayed for many years. On the surface, this seems very gloomy, but the alternative is having people plug away, not see success, and think it's because they're failures, rather than because that's just how things very often play out.

Anyways, I understand the value in studying the very best mentors. I just hope you'll also be on the lookout for lessons that can help people who want to be mentors in some capacity, but who have limited time to commit.

Ray Campbell

A couple of quick thoughts:

1) The issue of mentoring women and minorities deserves special and separate attention. Ida Abbott, a former big law partner who has been writing and consulting about this kind of issue for more than 20 years, recently came out with a book focused on mentoring women. The book is worth a careful read and the issues of mentoring women and minorities merit separate attention.

2) They should be clear that mentoring, as important and helpful as it can be, is just one component of a professional development program. Scott Westfahl, who worked in professional development at McKinsey before bringing the approach to a major Boston law firm, recently joined the Executive Education group at Harvard Law, where part of his responsibilities will involve teaching law firms about modern, structured professional development practices. Many law firms have clung to an archaic "sink or swim" approach while other professional organizations such as McKinsey have put in place thoughtful, structured, tracked programs to develop their professional employees. Mentoring tends to be serendipitous and ad hoc, and while it is wonderful when it works, organizations concerned with not wasting the talent they recruited at great cost really need a structured approach.

Orin Kerr

A possible challenge of the project, it seems to me, is that I suspect we already know what the best law mentors do. Here's a guess: The best law mentors are passionate; they show, not only tell; they care about the whole person; they give their time unselfishly. I would think the bigger challenge is that law mentors usually don't have the time or energy to be a great mentor, which is something you can't readily change with a book on how to be the best mentor.

Enrique Guerra-Pujol

I appreciate RC's point about the mentoring of under-represented groups. There are so many cases of so-called "mentors" actually doing more harm than good, working behind the scenes to sabotage the aspirations and careers of their mentees. (P.S. how refreshing not have any cowardly "anons" in this thread ... so far)

Matthew Bruckner

The nomination form specifically asks about mentoring of minority groups/women.

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