In Making Partner, we talk about the importance of securing an effective "sponsor" early on as an associate. In that context, a sponsor is someone who has your back and is in a position of influence when it comes time to fight for your annual raises, leadership positions for you at the firm, and consideration for partnership (both whether you should be considered and timing). It is also important to secure a mentor who can help teach you how to practice law and how to be a xyz (tax, securities, corporate, etc.) lawyer. Generally, a mentor and a sponsor will be two different people. A mentor can be someone for whom you do a lot of work and one who is clearly technically proficient as a xyz lawyer. A sponsor should be someone with whom you may have something in common, so called touchpoints (i.e., a female for female associates, someone with a similar background, from the same hometown, someone with whom you share similar interests, hobbies, etc.) that is in a leadership position at the firm.
Check out this interview to learn about sponsors (albeit in the corporate context but it works the same way at the firm) and advice for finding the right sponsor. The article explains the difference between a sponsor and a mentor (and suggests sponsors are more important but in the law firm context, they are both important on your way to making partner). From the article, "Mentors shine as you start to define your dream. They can see and put into words for you what you may not see about yourself or be able to articulate. They can help you determine your strengths: what you do exceptionally well and what sets you apart... If mentors help define the dream, sponsors are the dream-enablers. Sponsors deliver: They make you visible to leaders within the company — and to top people outside as well. They connect you to career opportunities and provide air cover when you encounter trouble."
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