Why Mentoring Matters: Cheryl Barnes of Cadwalader
While mentorship is widely seen as an important contributor to job satisfaction, retention, and promotion throughout one’s career, for women and people of color, mentorship and sponsorship are especially critical to career progression and development. career success.
I know this all too well as an African-American woman and a Big Law partner since 1994.
Most mentorships focus primarily on job satisfaction and advancement, but for me the relationships that have had the most impact, both as a mentor and mentee, have been those that are more personal.
These relationships – for me, first with a senior associate and later with a partner, as well as my own ongoing mentorship of promising colleagues – focus not only on
An informal relationship based on genuine interest
As a young lawyer beginning the practice of law over 27 years ago, there was few formal mentor-mentee relationships to have; however, it is the informal mentorship I have experienced throughout my career that I attribute to my longevity and continued success as an associate at Big Law. I was lucky to have had two such relationships.
As a first-year partner at Cadwalader in 1995, I quickly formed a relationship with one of the senior partners who had been instrumental in recruiting me to come to the firm as a summer partner. She was smart, caring, great with customers, and most importantly, a good human being.
She went out of her way to include me in the files she was working on and allowed me – in fact, encouraged me – to ask all the dumb questions you need to be able to ask to get you up to speed quickly as new associates but are often afraid to ask.
We quickly formed a lasting friendship and she was very candid with me about her experiences as a young woman in Big Law, including partnership prospects, navigating the firm, her family life and maintaining work-life balance – a term that wasn’t nearly as prevalent in legal circles as it is today.
Her openness and willingness to take me under her wing as a friend and colleague had a significant impact on the trajectory of our relationship. It provided me with a model on how to show that you are genuinely interested in understanding your mentee, which is key to providing helpful and effective guidance – not just career advice – throughout their journey.
After having her first child, I watched her successfully navigate motherhood and Big Law, but I wasn’t surprised when she made the decision to leave him for an internal role with more predictable hours. Despite the fact that she wasn’t able to help me navigate my long-term career, having her as a role model allowed me to see what could be possible.
She later became one of my best clients and we remain close friends today. I even had the opportunity to mentor him on various occasions, a wonderful turn of events that was very rewarding.
My mentor was compassionate and kind
My most important mentor was an associate I had the pleasure of working with for 15 years at Cadwalader (he retired 10 years ago). He wasn’t one to schedule formal weekly calls to discuss my career trajectory or my partnership potential, but when I needed help with a substantive issue or any other for that matter, he was there to offer advice, guidance and support.
I was invited to all important calls that often happen behind closed doors, consulted on personnel and billing matters, and sent to client offices to close deals on my own after only three short years of practice. Looking back, I think he saw things in me that maybe I didn’t even see in myself at that point in my career.
But what I remember most is that I was always treated with compassion and kindness. After having my first of three children as a mid-level associate, I approached her while still on maternity leave with a request to telecommute – yes, that’s how it is was calling at the time – at least one day a week in order to spend more time with my daughter. This request was immediately granted despite the fact that at that time there was no precedent within the company for doing so.
A few years later, when I walked into his office after closing a deal to jokingly inform him that our clients had asked when I would be promoted to attorney, his very short and concise response was, ” Let me examine the question”. And he did! Three months later, I was promoted to special counsel.
Despite the fact that he was not a mentor in the traditional sense or the way we formally identify mentors and mentees these days, he certainly helped pave the way for my success by creating an atmosphere that allowed me to succeed and prosper within the company while raising a family. Simply put, he found a way to balance business and customer needs while always keeping my best interests at heart.
Experiences have shaped my relationship with mentees
Looking back, these incredible personal experiences – in an industry that has made great strides in recruiting, retention and promotion, but still has a long way to go – have in every way shaped the way I mentor and build relationships with my associates and mentees.
Not only do I intend to provide the same informal relationship, support and positive work environment that was offered to me, but I am also aware that I can also offer more mentoring experiences. formalities that are vitally important to longevity and success in the great law.
While I believe that formal mentoring programs can be successful and play an important role in the personal and professional development of young lawyers, I firmly believe that it is informal one-on-one mentoring and relationship building that is the more significant. Two incredible mentors taught me this.
This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
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Cheryl Barnes is a capital markets partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP in Washington, DC, with nearly 30 years of experience structuring innovative and complex securitization transactions. She represents investment banks, commercial banks, government-sponsored companies and other financial institutions in private and public securitization transactions, as well as asset-based lending.