Operas do it. So do magazines and Fortune 500 companies. And if you’re looking to maximize your professional and personal life, so should you.
A board of directors gets elected to advise almost any serious concern based on the varied expertise members bring to the task, be it an opera company — or a career. Successful attorneys and professionals of all stripes are finding more and more that the way they approach their most trusted coterie of friends and colleagues has a lot in common with this model.
Much has been made of mentorship in law firms, especially among women attorneys: Young female associate doesn’t play golf, needs an in to get access and get on the fast track — it’s a worthy story, but one that’s been told. While few would knock the real benefits of pairing up young lawyers with more seasoned pros, those relationships only go so far.
There’s a better way. There’s a more natural, organic and evolving way to have at your disposal a stable of brains for picking. It’s not as obvious as a mentor/protégée relationship because it evolves naturally over time and in response to the changes life brings. And that’s how the magic happens.
Marty Hereford is a partner at Armstrong Teasdale, where she focuses on immigration and naturalization. She has been with firm since 2001, after five years at Peper, Martin, Jensen, Maichel and Hetlage — now Husch Blackwell — growing from an employment attorney into her immigration emphasis.
But it’s not just her business cards that have changed since her law school days. Hereford has a husband and a 10-year-old son and a rich life outside the sleek, modern Clayton offices of Armstrong Teasdale. She has, in the past, had official mentors. Now, though, she’s somewhat loath to even use that word.
“Your mentors change as you develop,” Hereford says, sipping coffee in a Clayton Starbucks the day before spring break with her family. It’s a casual Friday, and Hereford, with strawberry blond hair, is dressed down elegantly in a striped boatnecked sweater. With her is Susan Bonnell, Armstrong Teasdale’s director of learning and development. The two share an easy camaraderie, comparing notes on vacation destinations, law blogs and the Clayton of decades past.
While the conversation is about informal and unofficial advisory networks, it’s clear that Armstrong Teasdale takes seriously its responsibility to new attorneys. Bonnell’s business every day is to get new lawyers acclimated and keep old hands sharp and learning. New associates are shuttled into six-month mentor/protégée relationships, which certainly give them a base and more direct access to answers to questions one might not want to ask the boss.
“A lot of our associates are just coming out of law school,” Hereford says. “‘How do I use my secretary? Can I ask her to bring me coffee?’ That would be a ‘no,’ unless you’re on crutches.”
Bonnell echoes the sentiment. “It’s an adviser, an informal adviser. A brand-new lawyer may not be sure how to approach a partner. We can tell them, ‘Marty’s great, just knock on her door.’” Easy for Bonnell to say. She’s not a fretting newbie trying to get everything right. “It’s really the role of the adviser to help them become comfortable.”
After the six months end, ideally a new associate will have formed friendships and figured out how to navigate the space-age elevators and the gorgeous, burled blond wood desks at Armstrong Teasdale. And then what?
For Hereford, 44, over the course of her career and life and friendships, she has looked to people she clicked with to compare notes. She has a crew of people she respects and admires, and these are the people she calls with burning questions on the business of being Marty.
Early in Hereford’s career, Melanie Keeney, at Tueth Keeney Cooper Mohan & Jackstadt, refined Hereford’s passion for law into a passion for immigration law. When Hereford first arrived at Armstrong Teasdale, she struck up a fast friendship with partner A.J. Chivetta, who helped her see a clear path to success within the firm. And when Mommy, Esq. had had enough one day and needed a shoulder to cry on, another partner, Tessa Trelz, was there to offer perspective and encouragement. The business end of being a partner, Hereford says, benefits greatly from the viewpoints of other entrepreneurs, so she leans on Elizabeth Niedringhaus, president and CEO of SSE Inc., a management and information technology firm in St. Louis.
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Published April 23, 2012