4 Keys To Effective Mentorship For Your Small Firm

4 Keys To Effective Mentorship For Your Small Firm<br />
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Small Law Firms
May 2023

4 Keys To Effective Mentorship For Your Small Firm
By fostering the relationships that naturally form in close-knit working environments, small law firms have unique opportunities to develop the young attorneys who may one day take over the firm's operations.

At Capell Barnett Matalon & Schoenfeld, a firm tackling a wide variety of legal matters with a team of 20 attorneys based in New York City, Long Island, and Miami, mentorship is an area of focus, according to New York-based managing partner Renato Matos.

Read on to discover this firm's approach.

Foster Informal Relationships

Even if setting up a formal mentoring program feels unnecessary, fostering natural mentor-mentee relationships is essential to maintaining a firm culture that encourages attorneys to stay.

"When you start working at the firm, there's generally a particular partner that you start to work with and develop a relationship with," says Matos, whose practice covers several aspects of real estate law and matters related to religious corporations.

Each partner at Capell typically works with a team of about five to ten associates, leaving plenty of opportunities for associates to ask questions and take on important work.

Working on that smaller scale also allows associates some flexibility when it comes to which partner associates tend to gravitate to, Matos adds.

"One of my associates is very fond of one of the litigation partners, and the two of them have that kind of [mentor-mentee] relationship. We want to make sure everybody does have someone like that."

Build Confidence

Mentoring at small firms isn't just about deepening associates' understanding of the law or perfecting their document drafting skills.

For small law associates looking to eventually make partner or even to one day launch their own firm, learning the business side of lawyering is equally important.

"We don't think everyone necessarily has the personality to be a rainmaker, but everyone needs to go out there and develop a confidence level to be able to interact with clients, to feel comfortable and able to pitch a client and bring in that client," says Matos.

Setting associates up for success with potential clients also means more than just bringing them into meetings, Matos adds.

"We do a lot of lecturing, we do article writing. ... One of my associates recently said 'I really want to speak on this panel, could you reach out to [the organization] to see if we can get on the panel?' We want to support that because getting their name out there not only is good for them, it's good for us."

"I see a big difference in how associates start to interact at the firm and how they are as leaders when they start to go out there and feel confident in what they know."

Create Comfortable Communication

Before joining Capell, Matos says, he was a mentee in programs that sometimes felt a bit forced. He also found that many mentors see the mentor-mentee relationship as one in which they talk and their mentee listens.

Communication between mentors and mentees, however, shouldn't be a one-way street, Matos says: "If you're not not listening to what a mentee is saying and what they need and what they're looking for or what their ideas are, then it doesn't work."

With that ethos in mind, Capell associates are also expected to back up what they have to say with substantive plans.

"If you come to me with a great idea, then you should be ready to implement it, right?" Matos says. "We'll support you ... whether you're saying you want to revise our marketing or have different events for the offices to mix and mingle."

His preferred response to a well-prepared associate with fresh ideas? "OK, here's a budget. Why don't you start working on this?"

Spur Career Growth

Matos knows the benefits of maintaining Capell's culture of natural mentorship firsthand. After leaving Biglaw to join the firm, Matos was taken under the wing of founding partner Howie Capell.

"To be involved in the meetings, taking on clients of his and running with it -- of course with his direction. ... I was next to him absorbing and listening to what he had to say and how he ran the business," Matos says.

When Capell passed away in 2017, he transitioned management of the firm to his mentee. Matos continues that legacy of willingness to recognize hard work and sharp skills.

"Each year for the last three years, we've promoted to partner an associate who has been here for at least five years or more," Matos says.

"It's important to us to show that we're not afraid to make partners and that we value them."

That emphasis on rewarding effort and growth has translated to an incredibly low turnover rate, Matos adds.

"In the 10, 12 years I've been doing this, I've only had two people who have left, and one of them came back," he says. "I think that's a testament to the effort we put in to make sure our associates are happy and, if they're not happy here, making the effort to find a place where they are happy."

Ethan Beberness is a Brooklyn-based writer covering legal tech, small law firms, and in-house counsel for Above the Law. His coverage of legal happenings and the legal services industry has appeared in Law360, Bushwick Daily, and elsewhere.