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Stop Focusing on Mentorship and Sponsorship

Before you read any further, let me agree with you that mentoring programs and sponsorship efforts are both vitally necessary across the legal practice and a valuable part of a firm's/legal organization's diversity and engagement initiatives. But they aren't enough. And, really, they may be the wrong place to start.

Here's my beef with mentorship programs and sponsorship initiatives. They are focused on the success or experience of individual attorneys. We want Jim, Sally, Khalid, and Jimena to grow and have great careers (or, more cynically, we just don't want them to leave the firm so quickly). So we assign them a mentor, give them topics to discuss monthly, and hope that makes a difference. Or one of our senior attorneys takes a shine to them (or, more cynically, sees that we need to do something to prove our firm supports diversity) and advocates for them to get "better" assignments with "the right" partners. If all goes well, they will grow into your firm's next stars.

Jim, Sally, Khalid, and Jimena will benefit from that. But what about the rest of your firm. You're putting effort into advancing the experience and opportunities of single players when a broader approach is both possible and more effective. Stars are great, but the bigger the team, the less individual stars matter.

I'm not a sports guy, but here are a few sports analogies. LeBron James is one of the best, but even the GOAT needs a solid team to build a winning franchise. He was a superstar in Cleveland but Cleveland wasn't winning championships. How many times did Tiger Woods compete at the Ryder Cup (team gold tournament) and come away without a win, even when he was the top scorer? Answer - more than zero. And guess what it takes to win a track or swim meet? It takes a team. A single stand-out performance from a start isn't going to give you a championship. And sometimes it takes a team to make a champion. Professional cycling is much maligned, but putting a rider in the yellow jersey at the Tour de France takes both a great cyclist and an effective team. (Just ask Nairo Qunitana.)

So what do you do instead? How do you turn your squad of stars into a team of champions? Develop a culture that values leadership at all levels, not just individual mentorship. Help your leaders -- from senior associates and new partners to group leads and firm management -- earn the trust of their teams, offer a safe environment in which to grow and contribute, and reward those who are actually doing it.

Don't give up on your mentorship and sponsorship programs. But think about how you can make a broader impact on your firm.



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