I Lost my Partner Mentor


QI work in the litigation department of a large law firm.  As in all large firms, the partners are aggressive and don’t have time to answer questions from junior associates.  The partnership track is a very long-term commitment and is extremely competitive.  Since summering at the firm, I relied upon one senior associate (who had became a junior partner) to mentor me.  We formed a relationship that summer and have worked well together ever since.  We eventually started working together almost exclusively.  This partner would advocate for me to get better projects, and I, in turn, worked long hours.

I was counting/betting on this individual to champion my promotion to partnership. Instead, she left the firm to go in-house at a large corporation. How can I recover from losing my support structure at the firm? What do I do now?

AFind another one. She’s not the only smart, reasonable partner at the firm. If she’s as cool and professional as you suggest, I’m sure she’s told other partners about you. But a person you know and like leaving for greener grass is part of life in the Big City.  You need to re-group, find another “clique” within the firm and keep going.

Having said all that, I’m a bit worried about your use of the term “support structure.” This ain’t group therapy. I’m sure you two connected and had a good working relationship and all, but don’t mistake work-friends for friends-friends. Or therapists. We all need someone we can talk to—or bitch and moan to—but don’t look for “support” at the office. It’s possible to find it, no doubt, but it’s tricky.  Look for smart, reasonable people with whom you can work and learn.  Find your support network outside of the office (i.e., real friends and/or shrinks).

PS: Part of being an associate is figuring out how to interact with aggressive, overworked partners in an efficient and productive way.

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

3 Comments

  1. Al Dickman

    October 24, 2008 at 3:31 am

    Girl, don’t lose touch with that woman!  If you don’t make partner, which these days is a good possibility, you too will be looking to go in-house.  What better route to take than asking your woman mentor for a job in-house?  If there’s space and youre that good, she will probably pull for you.  Otherwise, stay focused at work, and if you’re good, you can do well with another partner.  It sounds like you are professional–not the usual type of question asked by the dippy twerps on this BLAWG!  Good luck to you, sister!

  2. Anonymous

    October 24, 2008 at 5:43 am

    how refreshing to have a real question on here…and not a whining law student asking how they can get to be partner without really trying….
    I agree…stay in contact with her…you never know when you might need a job or she might recommend you. And i am sure she will stay in contact with some of your firm partners too and she will vouch for you when the day comes. Otherwise…find a new mentor. Good luck!

  3. Ex-BigLaw

    October 24, 2008 at 5:43 am

    I agree with AD – stay in touch.  In all likelihood, your own chances for making partner have been materially diminished. 
    Then again, you could also become the “it” associate for the work the partner was doing.  You don’t mention how senior you are, but if at least an upper-midlevel and well regarded by clients, could you pick them up and handle them yourself going forward, rounding up other associates to assist?  If so, that’s one way to potentially make the best of a difficult situation and show the partnership that you’re able to maintain and enhance the firm’s book.

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