Why Mentoring Matters: Dechert’s Andrew Wong

“What are you going to do?”

The question just hung out there. It was easy. But it wasn’t asked by anyone, it was asked by a person I looked up to, a person I considered a mentor. I thought this person would give me answers about my future and give me advice on my direction. And instead of sitting in his office to get answers, I just got another question.

How should I react? what could i say All I could really muster in response was basically the truth, a weak “I don’t know.”

The funny thing about this whole interaction and question is that this person probably didn’t even know how important this time with him was to me and what this question meant for my future and mine Development. At that point, I had just joined the firm and had spent most of my career working with a different team in a different practice group. I didn’t have any clients of my own either.

Despite our different positions in the firm, this corporate partner at Dechert has always invited me for discussions, from hallway interactions to check-ins at various meetings. And that person has always listened to me and kept me informed about my work, my life and what I was doing.

Not surprisingly, he knew I was at a crossroads. I had always respected him for his leadership, vision and experience. That’s why I always made time to go to his office to chat, hear about his experiences and get his advice. But this time, instead of advice, I got just a question.

However, through his question, he was the one who really forced me to face my future and what I needed to do. It wasn’t the first time someone had asked me that question, or that I hadn’t asked that question myself. In fact, it came up in review and planning meetings all the time. Only this time it was different. Because of who it was coming from, I wanted to make sure I had an answer.

A single question can be important

Sometimes it’s just a question that can get you started. And that’s what it did to me.

I knew I had to develop my own practice, clients and expertise. With the company and my mentor’s support, I worked in one of our Asian offices to re-establish and develop contacts and potential clients.

Introduced to our Asian partners and their clients, I worked to understand the specific issues typically encountered in cross-border litigation, including issues of jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments.

As these internal contacts grew, so did my external ones. I took every meeting and phone call I could.

Eventually, I caught a few breaks and was engaged by a client on a cross-border matter. This led to further engagement until I finally had a number of Asia-based clients and a small cross-border litigation practice.

Even if he didn’t know it at the time, his views, opinions and the The time he spent with me as I came into the company trying to understand where I fit in always stood out. For me, that was the feeling of being a good mentor. And that’s what I say to anyone who is or wants to be a mentor to think about.

It doesn’t always take a lot of time or involve awkward, forced conversations. In my case, it was just being there and knowing that your words and actions can have a profound impact on those you see as a mentor.

Tips on how to be a good mentor

So here are my three basic pieces of advice for those who don’t see themselves as mentoring, but should consider it.

Be available. You never know who will benefit from your advice. It could be that junior partner, the employee down the hall, or even that paralegal or business services professional walking past you. You are a leader and you looked up to him. Keeping your door open and just saying hi and inviting you in to chat may be all it takes for someone to benefit from your knowledge, advice and words.

Be honest. When giving advice, be honest and truthful with everyone who seeks your help. Challenge the individual. Your questions and observations can be all the motivation and insight the individual needs. You don’t always have to have the answers, offer advice, or map out a path—it can just be listening. Often the answer was maybe there all the time, and like me, it just needed someone to challenge me to find a way forward.

Be careful. Know that your words, actions and thoughts matter. People watch you and they are influenced by you and your actions. In my experience, it was easy to observe the person who gave me this advice – how successful he was as a leader, trusted advisor and client confidante. Watching him, his interactions with others, and how he evolved in each role – all of these things played a role in why his question to me was so influential on my future.

In the end, mentoring can be as simple as being available, honest, and aware. And of course it really started with a simple question.

This article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Information about the author

Andrew Wong is a litigation partner at Dechert in Los Angeles and chairs the company-wide Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

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