Mentoring: Why You Need It and How to Get It

mentoring for african american attorneys


The legal profession demands a level of time and devotion that can stress even the calmest person. Moreover, African American attorneys face many challenges that make succeeding in the profession an even more stressful proposition. A mentor can help new (and seasoned) attorneys navigate the profession with less stress.  While the legal profession should do more to provide mentoring for African American attorneys, there are some things Black lawyers can do to help themselves. Read on to learn why you need a mentor and how you can go about finding one.

Why Attorneys Need Mentors

After spending three years and thousands of dollars on law school, it’s not surprising that many new grads think they have no need for further legal education.   However, as any experienced attorney will tell you, three years is barely enough time to learn what you need to be a successful lawyer. While basic skills such as research and writing will always matter, your professional network matters just as much – if not more – than your academic abilities.

Mentors help new attorneys learn about other attorneys. Even the smartest new grad doesn’t know the quirks of the people in the profession. A mentor can tell you that Judge X hates attorneys who wear blue on Wednesdays. She can tell you how to deal with that difficult partner. Even if she doesn’t work at your firm, she can draw on her experience to give you a plan of action.

Mentors provide a valuable sounding board. If you are considering a major career move, a mentor can provide feedback. If you encounter discrimination or other difficulties in the workplace, a mentor can advise you on your next steps. All in all, a good mentor will provide you with honest, objective counsel in your time of need.

Finally, a mentor can help you expand your professional network. While intellect and hard work are important, a good mentor will open doors for you. It’s up to you to have a good reputation and quality skills. But your mentor can introduce you to the right people or make sure that a recruiter looks at your résumé.

In short, a mentor can make a difficult profession a bit easier.

Barriers to Mentoring for African American Attorneys

Clearly, mentoring provides attorneys with many benefits. Unfortunately, African American attorneys and other attorneys of color often miss out on these benefits.

As frequently mentioned on this blog, the legal profession lacks diversity. NALP’s 2018 report on diversity in the profession notes that African Americans comprise less than two percent of partners at U.S. law firms. Even when Latinos and Asian Americans are included, the percentage of partners of color hovers around eight percent. In short, the majority of law firm partners (and other senior lawyers) are white.

The profession’s lack of diversity makes it harder for attorneys of color to find mentors. Attorneys of color want mentors who understand how racism complicates the practice of law. However, because there are so few senior attorneys of color, finding a same-race mentor is difficult. Even worse, when seeking mentees, white attorneys often – consciously or subconsciously – prefer other white attorneys. These dynamics make finding a mentor a complicated process for Black attorneys.

A recent ABA report on women of color in the profession confirms these realities. The ABA asked attorneys about their experiences in the profession. When asked, 67 percent of women of color said they wanted more and better mentoring. More than half of men of color agreed. Just 32 percent of white men felt the same. Similarly, 62 percent of women of color said that they were excluded from networking opportunities. Thirty-one percent of men of color felt the same. Only four percent of white men reported feeling excluded in the workplace.

These statistics present real barriers to mentoring for African American attorneys. Since the profession is slow to change, new attorneys of color should realize that they will have to make a special effort to find quality mentors.

Finding A Mentor: What You Can Do

While it may be difficult for people of color to find mentors, it is not impossible. There are a simple few things you can do to find a mentor.

Look to the State bar. Many state bars sponsor mentoring programs. While you might be skeptical about being matched with someone you don’t know, many lawyers have had good experiences with these programs.  Consider joining the Young Attorneys section of your bar to receive updates about mentoring and other networking opportunities.

Use Black Bar Associations. This blog has previously mentioned the many benefits of joining a Black bar association. When it comes to mentoring for African American attorneys, Black bar associations are a key resource. Some Black bars have official mentoring programs. Even those that don’t often sponsor networking events. Either way, belonging to a Black bar association will provide you with opportunities to meet a mentor.

Call Your Professors. Many law students graduate and never look back. However, law professors can be valuable mentors. They are often involved in the legal community. If you practice in the city where you attended law school, reach out to your former teachers for support.

Do Pro Bono. You won’t find a mentor while sitting at your desk. Getting out into the community will help you make connections. Volunteering on projects that matter to you will help you meet attorneys that share your values.

Mentoring matters. It helps attorneys at all levels succeed in the profession. Given the profession’s lack of diversity, mentoring for African American attorneys is crucial. If you would like a mentor, join The African American Attorney Network. The Network was created to help African American attorneys find clients and meet other Black attorneys. Join The Network today to find African American attorneys in your area.