A great mentor is invaluable for a young lawyer. In a profession based on judgment, young lawyers need the guidance of a wise, battle-tested lawyer to help them unlock their true potential. If they’re especially lucky, like I was, they will get the opportunity not just to “see,” but to “do.”
My mentor was Jim McManis. He founded McManis Faulkner more than 50 years ago, and I am grateful that he has helped shape me into the lawyer I am today. Mentorship is ingrained in our firm culture and it runs deeply though all aspects of the firm. As a “homegrown” lawyer, I am one of many to benefit directly from Jim’s dedication to mentorship.
For the first few years of my legal career, I worked exclusively with Jim. As a first-year lawyer under his careful tutelage, I took depositions and played key roles on trial teams, handling summary judgment motions and seeing big cases and decisions to conclusion. We worked on the cases together. He would explain – often in much detail – even the seemingly basic steps, like how to approach a phone call with a difficult opposing counsel. Whenever I needed guidance or just had a simple question, Jim was there, always available, always willing to go the extra mile.
As I reflect on the early stages of my career and my one-on-one mentorship with Jim, I marvel at what an incredible opportunity it has been. I actually got to practice and refine lawyering skills through active participation, all while learning from someone with decades of trial experience, someone always ready to answer questions, and brainstorm trial strategy.
Looking back now, I see why this hands-on, learning-by-doing approach is so important to succeeding as a lawyer. Like doctors going through residency, this direct mentoring allows lawyers to practice and develop the necessary skills to weather the day-to-day activities of a lawyer. It’s not just courtroom presence and cross-examining witnesses – it’s drafting interrogatories, taking depositions, interviewing clients, writing motions, etc. Understanding the entire lifecycle of a matter and planning for the end from the beginning is only possible in those early stages with the guidance of one who has been there many times before. You can read about how to handle cases and clients, but there’s nothing like “doing.” “Doing” helps young lawyers gain both experience and confidence.
No matter what you do in life – lawyering, cooking, exercising, or even something as simple as reading – doing and repetition build strength. Practice makes perfect. The value of “doing” is immeasurable and the opportunity to do so early in your career will set you up for greater accomplishments in the future.
I am taking these lessons and applying them as I grow in my own mentoring role at the firm. With a clear appreciation for the value of “doing” in my own career, I seek to support the next generation of lawyers by giving them that same opportunity to “do.” It will not only strengthen our firm, but also the entire legal profession.