Just about every lawyer is aware of the conventional wisdom that it’s important to have a mentor. Law firms often establishing mentoring programs.
But peer groups are something else. For instance, every law firm associate knows how critical it is to have a more senior associate willing to answer questions that range from how a particular partner operates to what business development expenses the firm will pay. It’s also helpful to talk with peers from other firms or other geographic regions about issues that range from how to get into a leadership role in a community-based organization and to use that exposure to your benefit in your law firm, how to present a work-from-home request to the partner you work for, etc. Especially when the group you connect with is truly your peer group — i.e. female associates working in a large law firm, sole practitioners in practice for 5-10 years, lawyers interested in leaving the law — the input from others can suggest new ideas, provide much-needed support, and allow you to participate fully without feeling exposed to your competitors.
So, how to find such a group? Several alternatives.
1. There are a number of online communitiesthat you can find by searching. I’ev read a few but I haven’t participated in any, so I can’t recommend any in particular. The benefit to these is clear: you can participate anytime, day or night, and there is little risk of having your identity revealed if you’re careful not to post too many identifying details. Of course, when you read what others have to say, there’s no way to consider the source of the comment, and that may reduce its value.
2. Many bar associations have groups that will fulfill this function. Young lawyers’ sections or law practice management groups are fertile grounds for wide-ranging discussions about how you practice and what you want from your career. You can also join a substantive section for more input on the mechanics of your practice.
3. Self-selected groups. It would be easy to start a group of peers with a monthly discussion topic, planning to meet at lunchtime or after work for an hour or so. The ideal group size is probably 6-12, with rotating leadership roles, and some mechanism for a group check-in on what topics are important to the members and how well the group is functioning.
4. Groups run by a coach or recruiter. The benefit of these groups is that they’re run by the same person or the same group of people, so there’s a continuity in leadership and the leader is trained. The groups tend to stay very much on track because everyone has a demonstrated commitment to the group and the work. And there’s an opportunity for great self-revelation without being unduly vulnerable, because the group members typically will not know one another outside the group and may even come from different geographic areas. The benefit of this group is that you get coaching as well as peer interaction, generally for a monthly fee that’s substantially lower than it would be for individual coaching.
If you’re looking for something — help in deciding how to shape your practice, support in working toward better work/life balance, sharing with non-competitors as you work toward making partner, or whatever else might be of interest to you — search out your peers. Lawyers often tend to be so independent that we reject help from others, but participation in peer groups can bring all sorts of rewards.
And if you’re interested in a coach-led peer group, watch this space. Within the next couple of weeks, I will be announcing a pilot peer group that I’ll be leading along with two others with substantial experience in working with lawyers — at reduced fees, since it’s a pilot program.