1/1/2014

Pay it Forward

The Legacy of a Great Mentor

By Jeffrey Schneider , Jim Foster

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” Churchill was a man of vision and one who aspired to be a great mentor. History shows that through his leadership, tough decisions resulted in multiple Allied Forces victories and many lives were significantly affected in a meaningful, positive way.


Many of us have been a mentee and can articulate who their mentor was and describe their qualities. Typically, that individual is honest, patient, intelligent and one you want to emulate.


You would go to battle for that mentor (thinking Churchill) and, in the legal or claims profession, describe him or her as one of the best lawyers or claim professionals you have ever known. Often, that mentoring relationship is formed by the partner-associate or manager-adjuster role.


However, over time, that formal relationship can be transformed by the mentoring process into one of teammates and friends. Spending time outside of work on a personal level with the mentee and their family, and discussing the mentee’s non-work related passions, goes a long way towards solidifying this relationship.


Traits of an excellent mentor include being competent enough to share the credit with the mentee and giving feedback in an honest manner and spending the time to listen to the questions of the mentee. As everyone learns by mistakes, as long as the decision-making process is rational and appropriate for the issue, then credit should be given to the mentee for shared work and decision-making. Conversely, the mentor must always stand by the mentee, even if there is a bad result, and take blame for the decision-making. This process will allow the mentee to grow and make decisions autonomously.


The mentee must be given direct client contact in order to allow for independent thought and decision-making. Alternatively, in the matter of claims and/or litigation management, given the expressed freedom to make informed choices on claim-related matters.


The mentor must grant the mentee specific authority to communicate with him or her, although the mentor should always be accessible for guidance, when needed. In this way, the mentee will grow and gain confidence, which will directly and positively affect the performance and productivity of both the mentee and organization.


For a successful mentoring program in the context of a law firm or claims department, best legal and claims practices must be shared with the mentee. Of course, this will include core values of the organization and the vision of its leadership. Mentors are role models and must be cool and calm under pressure in dealing with adversity. Mentors should also provide constant feedback during the process of logical and shared decision-making.


If your mentor/mentee program is successful, whether it will be formal or informal, your mentee, with time, will be transformed into a mentor of his or her own to continue the process. If a mentor takes a mentee under their wing, this will be a large step towards a successful program. As a by-product of the mentoring process, associates will remain loyal, become more effective, and will, in turn, be in a position to take on the role of a mentor in the future. This will allow for organizational and firm continuity.


Remember, life is about making memories. It’s the good ones that build a legacy.



Jeffrey Schneider is the Senior Manager of Liability Claims for BI-LO Holdings.

James A. Foster is a partner at Chicago-based Cassiday Schade LLP. He leads an emergency response team for catastrophic transportation accidents and serves as co-chair of CLM’s Transportation Committee.

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