Old Idea with a New Twist: Reverse Mentoring

In a new world of tweets, blog posts, status updates, and instant access to the web anywhere in the world from your smartphone, companies are embracing the old idea of mentoring with a new twist – reverse mentoring. As outlined by Brendan McKenna in his December article for the Law Technology News, reverse mentoring is when “older employees seek training and assistance from younger colleagues better versed in technology.” McKenna notes a recent Wall Street Journal article which mentions the idea is taking flight in many different industries, yet he questions whether law firms use “to a rigid employment structure based on the partnership track” will break from tradition and implement it.

Part of the fun, but also the hesitance, for many is the idea of partners turning to associates for social and technological “counsel”. But as markets and clients gravitate towards new forms of communication and more advanced technology, firms and individual partners will be increasingly forced to break the mold.

As McKenna goes on to note, “the benefits work both ways.” With more face time from reverse training, young associates are given a real chance to shine while also gaining a better understanding of their management and top executives. Per McKenna, young associates can use “their expertise as a means to stand out, and it likely comes naturally, because they grew up with technology that older staff may find intimidating.” Moreover, this would allow partners with another great opportunity to see their associates in action, and evaluate their overall value for the firm as they approach partnership. One area, in particular, where this idea already seems to have caught on at various firms is in e-Discovery.  Nicole Buziak of Blank Rome has stated that “especially for e-Discovery, the younger associates are in the trenches and they can really make this issue their own and educate more senior people on it.”

However, McKenna believes that, in general, associates are more enthusiastic about the idea of reverse mentoring than partners. For one, mentoring time takes away from time that could be spent billing hours. According to a West LegalEd Center survey, “professional development personnel stated they anticipate mentoring and/or shadowing programs to be less a priority than other functions during the next 24 months”.

Thus, it remains to be seen whether firms will make technology and social media training more of a priority in years to come. Reverse mentoring in large measure seems to be a solid way to approach this internally, with benefits for both associates and partners alike as they strive to keep up with clients in today’s ever-changing markets.

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