Frequently Asked Questions about Mentoring

For Everyone

For Inn Leaders

For Members

For Everyone

What is mentoring?

Mentoring—the sharing of knowledge and information from someone more experienced with someone less experienced—is a cornerstone of the American Inns of Court. Every Inn should have a plan for offering mentoring under the auspices of the Inn. Whether offered on a formal or informal basis, mentoring can be the best experience for lawyers to build or refresh the knowledge and skills needed to become effective practitioners. The mentoring program offered by your Inn of Court creates an environment for idea exchange and open discussion, ensuring that your Inn becomes an ideal place for new lawyers to learn from more senior members of the legal community, and for more seasoned professionals to expand their understanding of new approaches and technologies. Mentoring can provide fresh perspectives and insights, regardless of experience level. Mentoring has many shapes and sizes, permutations and variations—the important thing is that there is a proactive and purposeful approach to mentoring at Inns around the country.

Why should I be a mentor?

Mentoring is a classic example of paying it forward. Mentors end up honing their own skills, such as active listening and interpersonal relationship building. In addition to lifting up the mentee, involvement with mentoring can help increase you sense of self-worth and reenergize your own career. By providing direction and support in career development, you are helping to improve career satisfaction and, therefore, bolster the profession.

How do I know if I’m qualified to be a mentor?

If you have empathy, patience and a sense of humor, you can be a mentor. Mentorship is all about sharing the human experience, helping someone navigate unfamiliar territory—we’ve all had to do that. It’s not solely about teaching someone factual information, but also about helping someone to build confidence in themselves and guide them as they make their own decisions. It’s being someone they can turn to for courtroom fashion advice, as well as how to handle an ethical dilemma.

Why should I be a mentee?

Mentoring in the legal profession is a time-honored tradition for a reason: because it’s the best (if not only) way to learn about the unwritten rules of the road. Engaging in a mentoring program or relationship can increase your self-confidence, guide your career, and each you valuable self-advocacy skills. You can also learn how to accept feedback and critiques, and engage in productive networking. Mentoring is an opportunity to further hone communications skills (both in and out of the courtroom) and build leadership skills.

Can I be a mentor and a mentee at the same time?

Absolutely! The American Inns of Court supports life-long learning and continual professional development. Everyone has something of value to share others in the Inn—a Barrister in the middle of their career trajectory can certainly offer advice to those just starting down the legal path (“Been there. Done that.”) but can still have so much to learn from the Masters of the Bench who have seen it all.

Doesn’t a mentoring relationship have to be an older person mentoring a younger person?

We don’t like to think of age as a qualifier—we prefer to look at experience and what someone is bringing to the table. While it is often the case that an older, more experienced person mentors a younger, newly-minted person, there are occasions where a younger person may have more relevant experience to share with someone who has been in the profession for a few decades (think social media, understanding millennials or navigating technology).

How can I make the most of my mentoring experience?

While mentoring can be easy if you end up in the perfectly matched relationship, it still requires work. Both sides need to be working from the same set of expectations, with each party taking equal responsibility for arranging meetings, doing pre-work (reading articles, following up on connections, etc.), and maintaining communication channels. Depending on the personalities involved, you may want to agree in advance on topics, or you may want to come with a list of questions. No matter what side of the relationship you’re on, if you come prepared and truly engage, you should have a rewarding experience.

What can I do to create mentoring opportunities for myself?

Kudos, you’re already making strides if you’re an Inn member! But if you’re not—and even if you are—there are many ways to be mentored without letting it just happen to you. Get involved with your local or state bar sections and any other local legally-focused professional organizations. Start a “mastermind” group of friends in different practice areas, on both sides of the profession, and with a varied skill set (oral advocacy chops, mad brief writing skills, etc.). Keep up on all the latest legal decisions and subscribe to some legal publications. Schedule coffees with attorneys you’ve heard about and let them regale you with their war stories.

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For Inn Leaders

Where and how can mentoring take place?

Mentoring is a fluid process and can happen in many different places. With a goal of having all Inns implement their own mentoring program, we’d like to see things happen during your Inn’s regular monthly meeting; within the pupillage team as it meets to plan and prepare a program; in a relationship designed for this purpose with scheduled meetings between a wise and trusted counselor and a less experienced member; in small groups that meet outside monthly Inn meetings. Tell us where and when your mentoring is happening!

We don’t yet have a formal mentoring program at our Inn. Where do we start?

Look no further! The American Inns of Court has a plethora of mentoring related resources available here, including, articles, sample documents, model Inn programs and templates. If you’re really starting from scratch, take a look at our Guidelines for Building Mentoring at Your Inn. Once you have a foundation, consider one of our mentoring models—there is something for everyone!

How does a mentoring program fit into other things my Inn is doing?

Mentoring is a cornerstone of every American Inn of Court.  One of the best ways to teach civility, ethical behavior and professionalism is through example—mentoring is the best way to pass on this information.

We’re looking for new things to try as mentoring activities…any ideas?

You bet! Inns all around the country are doing cool and interesting things all the time—we’ve highlighted a few here, but you can also look up meetings with a mentoring theme and other mentoring related activities in our Program Library.

At our Inn, we have a networking happy hour every month. Does that qualify as mentoring?

While networking is most certainly an important component of mentoring, it is not the same thing. We recommend that all Inns incorporate networking activities in their mentoring plan. For more information, check out our comparison of networking and mentoring.

Our Inn has pupillage teams—does this count as a mentoring program?

Not exactly. In order to plan their education, many Inns use the concept of “pupillage teams”, groups of Inn members comprised of different career stages and experience levels which are then tagged as responsible for educational programs at the Inn. This arrangement gives a chance to mentor and be mentored as the group discusses possible themes and presentation styles, as well as the content for any given program. But the main focus of a pupillage team is education. While many Inns have pupillage teams sit together at dinners or Inn meetings, which further provides an opportunity for information sharing, advice-asking and story-telling, the mentoring is a "by-product" of the team, not the main purpose. Pupillage teams can provide opportunities for both group mentoring, as well as one-on-one relationship building, but it has to be done purposefully, not incidentally.

Can mentoring be done in groups rather than one-on-one?

Absolutely! It is very efficient and effective to have a small group of three to five people mentored by one or two people. Successful group mentoring might look like having a judge host a small group in chambers, or for two or three new attorneys to invite a more senior Inn member for coffee (their treat!). The learning that is done in groups is very important, with relationship building the true indicator of success.

How do we know if we’re doing a good job?

At the end of the year, the Inn’s mentoring committee or responsible party should conduct an evaluation of the Inn's mentoring program, seeking input from mentors and mentees and using information from group reports. The results should serve as a means for continually improving the Inn's mentoring program. Not sure what questions to ask? Check out a sample end-of-year evaluation.

Is mentoring part of the Achieving Excellence program?

Yes. The Achieving Excellence program is a tiered achievement-based program that recognizes activities in which Inns are already involved and builds on an Inn's successes. It’s all about moving towards mastering effective practices in each of the five core competencies of Inn management: administration, communications, program development, outreach activities, and mentoring. For more information about the mentoring requirements for Achieving Excellence, please go here.

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For Inn Members

If my Inn does not have a formal mentoring program, does that mean that there’s no mentoring going on?

Absolutely not! There are many informal ways that mentoring can occur. For example: during Inn meetings, over coffee, in judges’ chambers, or through a networking event. Because mentoring is one of the cornerstones of an American Inn of Court, we do encourage every Inn to have some kind of mentoring effort embedded in their annual operational plan, in their executive committee or publicized to all Inn members.  Be sure to check with your Inn leadership to find out more about what they’re doing or hope to do…maybe you can be the new point person!

Are there other ways to be involved in mentoring other than face-to-face?

For members of an American Inn of Court, face-to-face mentoring is one of the major benefits of membership—where else can you find students, practicing attorneys and judges all in one collegial environment primed and ready to learn and/or share?  Still, for those are not fortunate enough to be a member or who do not have an Inn in their geographic area, virtual mentoring is an option. As we progress together in our mentoring endeavors, we’ll explore how we can expand all the good work we’re doing together outside of our American Inns of Court circle.

Where and how can mentoring take place?

Mentoring is a fluid process and can happen in many different places. With a goal of having all Inns implement their own mentoring program, we’d like to see things happen during your Inn’s regular monthly meeting; within the pupillage team as it meets to plan and prepare a program; in a relationship designed for this purpose with scheduled meetings between a wise and trusted counselor and a less experienced member; in small groups that meet outside monthly Inn meetings. Tell us where and when your mentoring is happening!

What should I do if there’s no mentoring program at my Inn?

Take action! Mentoring in the Inn environment is one of your membership benefits and is a cornerstone of the American Inns of Court. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with your Inn leadership directly, please contact your Chapter Relations Director—he or she can help you determine if there is a program in your Inn and how to get involved, or help reach out to the executive leadership to say there is a need (and a demand!) for mentoring. Our job is to ensure that you have a high-quality member experience and mentoring is a key piece of that—just let us know and we’ll get right on it.

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