Tips for Mentoring and Growing Your Network
This week, the New York State Bar Association’s Labor and Employment Law Section held a seminar celebrating the significant contributions of Black attorneys across New York State. The event centered around sharing advice on mentoring, networking and dealing with the challenges faced by attorneys of color. The program was moderated by Melissa S. Woods of Cohen Weiss and Simon. The panel featured attorneys from New York City, Albany, Long Island and Rochester. They represent work in the public, private and non-profit sectors.
In discussing the value of having a mentor, Derek Sells of the Cochran firm told participants that no one goes it alone.
“That myth must be debunked. I don’t think anyone who’s successful who has ever done it on their own,” he said.
He added that we can always learn from colleagues’ successes and failures. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t be afraid to talk to other people.” Sells says you can learn something from everyone you meet. “Go to them and say ‘Hey you have this special skill set I really want to learn from you, I really want to get that information from you’. Sells cautions to be respectful of a mentor’s time and respond in a timely fashion while cultivating the mentor/mentee relationship.
Melissa Woods described her network of female mentors whom she calls her “women ballers.” They represent a variety of professions. “They are mentors who make sure that I get introduced to the right people and [allow me to] take part in events that would be beneficial to my career.” Woods says you also need friends who can be honest with you. “The folks who are going to come and say to you ‘Hey you know what? That wasn’t your best’. ”
Finding and Growing your Network
Talen Greenidge of Constangy, Brooks, Smith and Prophete says she grew her network and her client base through volunteer opportunities and community service. “Building those relationships to have people refer clients to you, and building meaningful connections on boards for local nonprofits” was key to growing her network, she said.
Pamela Fynes of New York State United Teachers confesses that networking was difficult for her, forcing her out of her comfort zone. She waited until her children were older before working on her network and advises others not to wait. “You can just approach people and ask them ‘Do you have a minute to talk to me, can I call you tomorrow, can I send you an email?’ It’s really very simple. It’s just a matter of you taking a step out of your comfort zone to do something that you’re not accustomed to doing,” she said.
Adrian Neil, counsel for the Rochester City School District, says cultivating your network can be a part of everyday interactions. “You’re networking, whether you realize it or not, because you need folks or when you’re not in the room, are they going to say good things about you? That’s the only way you’re going to advance,” he said.
Be Mindful of your Reputation
In all your interactions, Pamela Fynes cautioned participants to be mindful of their reputation. “Your reputation, it goes before you it and comes after you. You always want to make sure you do your job and you put your best face forward,” she said.
She continued that a bad situation can follow you in your career. “It has a lot to do with where you’re going to end up. Always remember to do the best job you can and try not to leave bodies behind you, as you move along your path.”
Monte Chandler of the Chandler firm echoed that sentiment. “Be a man or woman of integrity. That will take you further along than anything else,” he said. ” To thine own self be true.”
Sells reminds lawyers, especially trial attorneys, that they can learn and grow from every person they meet. “Anyone you meet can be a person that could help you and so don’t feel like you can only address certain people and not others.” Monte Chandler says networking can help you in many areas of your life. “If you’re not networking, you can’t grow,” he said.
The panel also shared personal stories of facing challenges in the workplace such as racial profiling and dealing with the quiet discrimination of unwritten office rules. View the 90 minute event full of triumphs and tough calls here.