Mentor in Law: Volume 1 | June 2020 | Why Mentorship Matters


VOLUME 1 | JUNE 20, 2020

Practice area spotlight: Public International Law

Topic: Mentorship

Contributors: T. Michael Peay, Aneesh Mehta, and Riya Kuo

Note to Law Students/Lawyers
These are extraordinary times. As many attorneys who weathered the 2008 global financial crisis will tell you, things may be difficult, but you will overcome this tide and you will be a better lawyer for it. I know there's a lot of uncertainty right now around your future in law, but your resilience and grit will get you through this. Whether you're a law student, recent grad, or lawyer, I hope this monthly newsletter serves as another resource for you to learn the practical skills to thrive as an aspiring or practicing lawyer and to remind you that you have all that you need in your reach to make magic happen. Things may not happen on your own terms or timeline, but always remember: everything is figureoutable. You have an entire community rooting for you. Keep reminding yourself why you decided to go to law school in the first place, take a deep breath, and move forward, one step at a time.
Why Mentorship Matters
men · tor
an experienced and trusted adviser
Whether you're a law student or already a lawyer, one of the best things you can do for your career is to seek out a mentor/group of mentors. In the legal profession, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a mentor. Law school teaches you to understand and apply the law, but it does not prepare you adequately to practice law or teach you how to be a lawyer. The right mentor can provide advice, connections, and support that can help you reach heights that would be impossible alone. Mentorship is an even more important asset in today's down market because the world is not operating under "business as usual."
1) Assemble your personal dream team. There are different types of mentors, and you should consider seeking out the different kinds. A few to consider: connector, coach, challenger, champion, and role model. But focus on quality over quantity. I consider 5 as my magic number of mentors at any given time. Everyone has an opinion but be discerning about whose advice you take. Cultivate a small group of people who will always be in your corner whenever you need support or help in your career. Find people whose work you respect, who you may want to be like, and who you feel comfortable with. As you change jobs and move different directions in your career, this "dream team" will likely change as well. While you should have at least one mentor who directly understands your work and field, consider also finding mentors outside of your practice area or industry. Sometimes, all you need is a completely fresh perspective. 

2) Be thoughtful and intentional with your outreach. There are both informal and formal channels for finding a mentor, and both have their value. For formal programs, reach out to your law school, alumni networks, local/national bar associations, etc. to see what's available. For informal mentors, do your due diligence on your potential mentor before reaching out. Follow their work on social media, research their practice area, check if they have published any articles, see if you have any mutual connections, attend an event that they're speaking at, etc. Reach out with a genuine, personalized message and anchor it in a mutual interest/contact or something you found interesting in their work. Instead of focusing on what YOU need, consider what value you can offer them. Most often, relationships evolve organically into mentorships (and then friendships), but sometimes you have to be direct and make the "ask." Generally, do not ask someone to be your mentor unless you already know the answer is "yes," but even then, they still may say no, and that's completely fine. You both move on.

3) Mentorship is a give and take relationship (and not a transaction). As a young professional, it may feel like you may not have much to offer initially, but at the very least, be immensely respectful and appreciative of your mentor's time and advice. They are under no obligation to help you or give their time so generously, so to ensure it's a mutually enriching experience, be punctual, show gratitude, and be proactive. Be flexible with scheduling, show up on time, come prepared with focused questions, send thank you emails/notes, follow through with the advice if you say you will, update your mentor on how it's going, and be of service when you can. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of following through with the advice and keeping your mentor updated on how their advice worked out for you. This is fundamental to establishing a productive, long-term relationship. Think of mentorship as a marathon, not a sprint.

Why Mentoring Matters, NYTimes 
Essential Elements of Mentoring, Forbes 
"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." -African Proverb
Meet T. Michael Peay
Judge T. Michael Peay retired from the U.S. Department of State in 2012 as a senior international legal adviser, capping a hugely satisfying 30+ year career as a U.S. Diplomat representing the United States Government both in Washington and abroad. He handled a broad cross-section of Public International Law (PIL) matters from treaty negotiations to resolving specific bilateral legal issues. Currently, he is a judge on the Administrative Tribunal of the Organization of American States (OAS).
  • What are three pieces of advice you would give someone interested in public international law?
1) Language is not a prerequisite to work in public international law. Most U.S. federal agencies do not require foreign language proficiency as a condition precedent for employment. The exception is if you plan to land a job at a UN agency, then proficiency in at least two official UN languages is mandatory. With that said, having such a skill can only be career enhancing. If you do have a high or near-high degree of foreign language proficiency, you should take every opportunity not only to retain but also to polish it. You have everything to gain, and nothing to lose.

2) Make every effort to become familiar with and to read authoritative PIL sources. Recognize that contemporary PIL is a distinct body of law. It is a dynamic, tangible, and ever-expanding specialized field of law. PIL now extends from such traditional issues as sovereign State immunity, the laws of war, international criminal law, and human rights law to more exotic or contemporaneous matters, such as: the rules governing rights and duties of States in Outer Space and in the Arctic Zones; the Law of the Sea; transnational cyber activities and countless others. PIL is now so ubiquitous, you can seek out opportunities at the State Department or at another U.S. federal agency such as the DOJ, DoD, Treasury, HHS, EPA, SEC, etc.  The reason is that each of those agencies now has an “international” division that often works in close coordination with State Department lawyers. 

Excellent sources include, but are not limited to:
      - Security Council Resolutions that were adopted pursuant to Chapter VII of the UN Charter [because these resolutions really are legally-binding];
      - Recent International Law Commission (ILC) Annual Reports;
      - The Digest of U.S. Practice in International Law [prepared by the Office of the Legal Adviser at the U. S. Department of State]; and
      - International Legal Materials published by the American Society of International Law (ASIL).

3) Never stop honing your writing skills. “The pen is not only mightier than the sword; it can sometimes be more lucrative than the sword.” Since at least my generation of lawyers, and surely before then, a complaint frequently heard is, “Boy, I wish they had spent more time teaching us how to be more effective legal advocacy writers!” Many are the young lawyers who discovered to their chagrin that, though they fully comprehend the substantive subject matter, they lacked the ability to quickly produce strong written advocacy products that satisfied their bosses. I’m sure that writing well is arguably within anyone’s capacity, provided one understands that doing so is a process, an art form, that requires regular practice in order to improve. At a certain skill level, your writings will stand out, be sought after, and will likely lead to promotions, salary increases, and/or other results that tend to boost the trajectory of your legal career. So, don’t delay; start now by emulating strong writers and borrowing their tools for more effective, persuasive writing skills.
Another practice area will be featured next month!
Meet Aneesh Mehta
In Aneesh's words: "I'm a pop culture/college sports enthusiast, turned engineer, turned IP attorney, turned product lawyer. I’ve always chased technology, but have taken different roles to do it."
  • What is your current role and practice area?
I am product counsel on the Windows and Devices team. This includes supporting our Applied Sciences Group and the upcoming Microsoft Surface Duo device.

I also serve as the President of the South Asian Bar Association of North America (SABA). SABA seeks to strengthen the rapidly growing South Asian legal community with a recognized and trusted forum for professional growth and advancement, and promotes the civil rights and access to justice for the South Asian community. 
  • Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school? 
I would have gotten to know my professors and deans better.
  • What is something you wish you knew about the practice of law during your first 5 years of practice?
That my first job outside of law school would not define my career as a lawyer. And that asking for help, in the right way, is a powerful way to build allies.
  • What is one myth you’d bust about being a lawyer?
They spend so much time in law school about having the right answer to the professor’s question, but it's really more powerful to have the right questions.
  • What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?
There is always a hot area in the law that gets more attention (IP, Privacy, AI). It’s a guarantee that the area of law that is hot will change every five years. It's useful to align to that area of law when you are starting, as there will naturally be more openings. But be willing to change.
Meet Riya Kuo
Riya Kuo is a global leadership coach and trusted advisor to unconventional executives, entrepreneurs, and creatives. A former corporate lawyer, she has helped her clients win their first CEO role, develop the awareness and motivation to transform their careers, and lead with more confidence and ease.
  • What is your current role?
Executive and leadership coach
  • What kind of law did you practice before?
Corporate (tech sector) law at Microsoft and Sony Pictures and corporate law at Wilson Sonsini
  • Why did you decide to leave the law? 
I actually never thought I'd be in law as long as I was (almost 15 years), but the uncertainty of the 2008 recession and then a fantastic in-house opportunity to work with an unconventional technology business unit and do good work in the community kept me engaged. I've always loved the counseling aspect of practicing law, and continue to counsel in my current career while leaving some of the other aspects of law behind. Coaching is deeply fulfilling to me on a purpose-driven level, and I appreciate the freedom of having my own business. I do miss being a member of a high functioning legal team though!
  • What legal skills do you still use today? 
I am still a trusted advisor to executives and entrepreneurs, and I still partner with my clients to generate creative ideas, formulate strategic plans, and mitigate risk -- now it's around professional and personal challenges vs. building and delivering software products.

The ability to ask good questions and have the uncomfortable but necessary conversations that most people want to avoid is also a useful and important skill I have carried over from my legal practice. And being comfortable with "it depends" as an answer sometimes and still being able to support and advocate for the direction we go in to the best of my ability.
  • Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school?
I would have followed my own interests and values more confidently. I left my law school and resigned from a journal that I joined because I felt like I was "supposed" to be on a journal, to be a visiting student at a school where I could take courses on race and the law as well as a clinic for violence against women. I ended up publishing in journals (vs. merely editing someone else's articles as journal staff) and even winning a writing award because I was so much more engaged there. I wish I had known that it was wholly possible to be both a Fortune 50 corporate lawyer and an advocate for access to justice without feeling like I had to choose one or the other from day 1.
  • What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?
The human aspects of being an exceptional lawyer are not taught in law school - how to build deep trust with clients, how to creatively enable business growth while still staying within the bounds of laws and regulations, how to understand all the corner cases but also to subjectively manage the actual risk. These are not traits that can necessarily be developed effectively via AI or machine learning, and I think these will be much more important skills to have going forward as more of the "paper pushing" aspects of law are supplanted by technological solutions.
  • What are two pieces of advice that you would give to those looking for opportunities outside the law?
1. What is it that you've been doing your entire life, that practicing law was the logical next step to? And what would be the next step after or alongside law, to continue doing what it is that you uniquely do? Understand that.

2. It's ok to leave the law and come back. I've quit my legal career twice now. When I interviewed for my last law job (with a very conservative legal department), my two year sabbatical from law was a non-issue. Travel sabbaticals and time off are much more common than you may think, particularly from high stress, demanding roles.

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