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In-house counsel jobs could benefit from being mentored, doing mentoring

Posted by: Laurence Simons 10/10/12

If we have learned anything from the Rocky films, it is that the traditional role of a mentor is to dish out wisdom, advice and motivation when you need it most and then abruptly die. They die. Often you will have to watch them die, but they will always die. Mentors never live.

But, tiny reminder: the legal world is not the same as the Rocky films (specifically Rocky III & IV). There is a little crossover, yes. Just as Rocky needed to run up some steps and catch some chickens and drink some raw eggs for breakfast every morning, so law students have to graduate. And though Rocky watched most of his mentors expire and die, the concept of a wise master giving you gee-ups and advice is still one that applies to those who are new to an in-house counsel job.

That's according to Law.com's Shannon Green, anyway. As Shannon notes, there seems to be a trend for those lawyers making the switch from private practice to in-house legal jobs to sit at their new desk with their newly sharpened pencils and their fresh-out-the-wrapper book entitled 'In-House Law for Dummies' and to just look around all bewildered and clueless. And if you find yourself on the raw end of such a sea change, a good idea is to seek out wisdom and advice from mentors who may be in the same field, although not necessarily the same corporation.

Alan Triggs is just one such legal expert who sought out advice after he joined MPD Inc as the company's sole in-house lawyer back in December. As he admits to the news publication, he had some questions on the day-to-day duties and responsibilities of being a general counsel that only someone who had been there, done that and run up the steps in celebration could answer. So he turned to that internet.

"The response has been great," he told Law.com. "It's hard to know whether you're going in the right direction or the wrong direction when you're the only attorney in the office."

Other lawyers have joined up to mentorship schemes that take them from law school right through the partnership track. But mentors aren't just for rookie lawyers who don't know which way to put their fancy lawyer wig on - as Inside Counsel's Alex Vorro noted earlier this year, mentoring can help attorneys at every stage of their legal careers.

"Ask almost anyone in the legal profession and they will likely agree that mentoring is one of the most critical components to a lawyer's success," he wrote. "A mentor can give a lawyer the tools needed to understand how to navigate his career, regardless of whether it's in-house, or at a law firm, non-profit or a government agency."

If you're lacking in guidance at any stage of your career, putting on your best power suit and hitting the next networking event on the hunt for a mentor is probably a good move. And if you're a wise old sage already? Pass that knowledge on. As keen mentor and Care1st Health Plan GC Alan Bloom told Law.com, he learns from his mentees as much as they do from him. "Every time we meet, I also learn something new," he said.