Much is made of coaching trees that derive from assistant coaches who have worked for prominent head coaches. The success or failure of the coaches that branch out after having worked under a particular head coach can bear significantly on the legacy of the head coach. Consider the former coach of the Green Bay Packers, Mike Holmgren. Two well regarded head coaches were once assistants under Holmgren: Andy Reid and Jon Gruden. Reid’s teams are perennial playoff contenders, and Gruden has won a Super Bowl. Each of those guys also has a coaching tree. John Harbaugh, Ron Rivera, and Doug Pederson worked under Andy Reid, and each has either won a Super Bowl (Harbaugh and Pederson) or led his team to the playoffs (Rivera).
There are other coaches whose trees are less fruitful. Bill Belichick and Nick Saban are extraordinarily successful head coaches who are renowned for turning out assistants who largely do not become successful head coaches. Of course, not every protege will go on to success. There can only be so many teams in the playoffs each year. But this reputation serves as a modest mar to the accomplishments of each coach.
What does your lawyer mentoring tree look like?
I recently scheduled a mediation with a lawyer in Montgomery. I didn’t know him, but he had a reputations as an effective mediator. After putting the mediation on my calendar, I went down the hall to my mentor and asked her about the mediator. I was surprised to learn that the mediator was my great-grand-mentor; he had been her mentor’s mentor. Since my mentor’s mentor is the founding partner of my firm and the person who recruited me, I know him well.
What this knowledge further ingrained in me is that there is a strong legacy of lawyers who precede me. They are all known to be good litigators and better people. They have great relationships with their clients. They get good results, not only in the courtroom but also in getting cases resolved that don’t need to make it to a courtroom. The lawyer mentoring tree on which I am a branch has a reputation for integrity. In the midst of adversity, they are stalwart.
So what does this mean to me? I’d better not screw it up. My reputation is not only mine. It is also the legacy of those who have mentored me, who have poured a part of themselves into me. My own reputation could either be a jewel in their crown or a black mark on their record. I carry that knowledge with me and use it to instruct my decision making.
Don’t be afraid to grow your own branches
Regardless of whether you’ve had good mentors or have had to make your way without any, consider mentoring other lawyers who have less experience than you. When done well, it can be a deeply rewarding experience that affects the lives of both the mentor and the mentee. Those you pour yourself into will become a part of your legacy. Not everyone you mentor into will go to be successful or will themselves have a good reputation. But what they have learned from you should spur them in the right direction.
Take stock of what your lawyer mentoring tree looks like. Look at both the limbs you have branched from and those you have mentored who will be associated with you. Are you building a legacy of lawyers helping other lawyers be better at their craft, better at serving their clients, and better at managing their businesses? If not, now is a good time. There is someone you could serve well by sharing your knowledge and experience.