The W5 of Mentorship

 In Practice Management

In my opening comments on practice management, I focused on the etiquette and goals of mentorship as a practice management tool.  This week, before addressing the organization and implementation of a mentorship program, I am reviewing what I refer to as the W5 of mentorship (Who, What, Where, When and Why) that will inform it.


As I have stated, in theory, mentorship is an apple pie goal accepted by everyone.  However, in practice, things become somewhat more complicated.  In practice, while desirable, mentorship may not be for everyone: not every mentee may be a good subject, and not every mentor may be up to the task.  In thinking about this, I recalled the writings of Ray Dalia and his postulation of “radical truth and transparency.”  Just as Dalia has expressed about business first and life second, the goal too of mentorship is improvement.  So, both participants must be truly motivated by the opportunity for improving the reach and grasp of the mentee. Staying with Dalia’s proposition, both participants must be capable of accepting and appreciating the importance of being radically true and transparent about everything, including mistakes and weaknesses, as an essential path to success. Some are, some are not.  The construct of a mentorship program must, therefore, recognize and allow for the possibility that one size will not fit all, although as I note here that is the goal.


Dali states that “Learning is compounded and accelerated when everyone has the opportunity to hear what everyone else is thinking.”  This is I suggest the “what” of mentorship. The mentor must be prepared to give, and the mentee prepared to take.  In the Mind of the Leader, authors Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter (Harvard Business Review Press) identify three qualities essential for increasing engagement, happiness and productivity. They are mindfulness, selflessness and compassion, styled by the authors as “MSC leadership.” These too are in my view what mentorship is about, and characteristics that any mentorship program must recognize and endorse. I will return to these in future posts.


As a practice management tool, a mentorship program cannot be tied to the office; it must go on the road. It must be acclimated to the work that the mentee is doing, and where the mentee is doing it.  In my past practice, given my orientation as a litigator, I thought of mentorship in the context of the care and feeding of litigators and not otherwise.  In litigation, it was easy to “go on the road” in efforts to work with and seek to enable other lawyers.  Of course, a mentorship program which seeks to be applied in a balanced and measurable way to all mentees must apply to and the proposition of going on the road be adaptable to all legal practices.  Remember that as a practice management tool mentorship is a carefully structured program, set up for the long run. The long run goes where the practice is, in form and substance.  The mentee must be allowed to see everything and be everywhere relevant to growth.


Mentorship must not presume that relevance or effectiveness is necessarily limited to a certain year of call.  This concept is to be avoided.  I doubt that a lawyer of any age or call would tire of or refuse the opportunity to be mentored by the giants of our bar.


Let’s go back to basics. To paraphrase Roderick Alexander Macdonald (Lessons of Everyday Law, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University) only slightly, every moment of interaction can be a moment of relationship building, can contribute to the development of our legal consciousness, and can enrich the quality of the law that we practice every day.  That is not only the goal of mentorship,  it is also the contribution that every mentor seeks to make, and the reasoning behind every program.

Next: organizing and implementing a mentorship program.

This blog post was written by  K. Scott McLean,  General Counsel and Director of Practice Management.  He can be reached at (613) 369-0375 or at

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