The Importance of Mentorship in Intellectual Property

Monday, January 31, 2022

In celebration of National Mentoring Month, intellectual property (IP) partner Brent Hawkins (co-leader of the firm’s automotive and mobility industry team, head of the firm’s First Generation Lawyer affinity group, and former co-leader of the Black Lawyer affinity group) and IP associate Kandis Gibson shared their insights on the value of mentorship and sponsorship, their experiences with mentors and mentees, including best practices, and their views on how investing in mentorship can help promote greater diversity and inclusion in the IP space.

Why do you feel mentoring is important?


I think it’s especially important for people to have practical and accessible examples of those who have successfully forged a path similar to one that they wish to pursue, to encourage them to follow suit or inspire them to make new paths of their own. When you see someone who you can relate to achieve success, you’re more likely to believe that you too can achieve that same or a related level of success.

Perhaps of paramount importance is mentoring toward sponsorship, a relationship in which a mentor makes a personal investment in the career development of their mentee and champions their success. In the last two years, mentorship, and in particular sponsorship, have taken on an even more critical role in fostering the development of others, given many of us remain somewhat cut off from our support systems, even those outside of our professional networks.


Mentoring provides valuable career and life advice while helping individuals establish networks—both within and outside of their field and their place of employment. These relationships can help people avoid common career pitfalls, navigate office life and career moves, and identify and correct weaknesses in their skill sets as they grow and move throughout their careers.

Have you been inspired by a mentor, and if so, how?


Recently, a long-term mentor could see I was second-guessing a career decision I needed to make and served as a source of tough love and encouragement. I knew his advice was spot-on, but he knew that I needed help to work through and process my doubts. It’s essential to have mentors with whom you have a good and honest rapport. They know you and your capabilities and can often see things in you that you may overlook. This mentor’s encouragement helped me address my doubts and move forward with a career decision that was in my best interest.


I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors along the way, including as I travel along my path today. My most impactful mentors have encouraged me to develop the courage and power of my own voice, which in turn inspires self-confidence, the ability to lead and, most importantly, the fortitude to offer mentorship and sponsorship to others.

How can mentorship promote greater diversity and inclusion?


The broader the spectrum of mentors, the more next-generation leaders they will inspire. Having practical, relatable, and accessible mentors is key in realizing almost any goal and forming all beneficial mentorships. It is important to have mentors and mentees in one’s sphere with shared experiences and backgrounds to act as models of support through commonality. I have been lucky enough to witness the impact it has on others to see “people like me” succeeding in leadership roles while still being authentic. But it is of equal importance to establish mentoring relationships with those unlike you, with unfamiliar circumstances or life experiences. Although these types of mentoring relationships can be challenging at their inception, once established these seemingly noncomplementary relationships can often be the key to the growth necessary to foster greater diversity—and certainly inclusion.


Having supportive mentors is crucial to the success of diverse attorneys who may be the only, or one of a few, diverse attorneys in their offices. This goes beyond numbers. Inclusion is required for diverse attorneys to become a part of a firm’s environment and culture. Good mentors can facilitate this inclusion by establishing connections with diverse attorneys and serving as allies and resources to help them acclimate and thrive.

What are the barriers to effective mentorship in IP and how can they be overcome?


In the COVID-era, while virtual environments make it easier to interact, the pandemic has made it difficult for mentees to find mentors and subsequently form and maintain meaningful, productive, and purposeful relationships. For example, within IP, as is true in many legal practices, there are numerous local and national bar associations holding virtual events. For individuals seeking mentors the challenge is reaching out and being honest about the connection they are trying to establish and then being consistent about maintaining it.


In many ways, barriers to effective mentorship in IP are no different than in other areas of practices. Mentees struggle to find common ground with mentors. There also is a tremendous lack of racial, ethnic, and gender parity that a reluctance to create trusting relationships, a key component of effective mentoring and sponsorship. However, these challenges also present a unique opportunity for mentoring and being mentored across racial, cultural, and gender differences. This is particularly true given the small community of professionals that have pursued a niche career—oftentimes against the backdrop of having first pursued a scientific background.

Read Brent’s commentary on the importance of mentorship in IP in World IP Review.

Mentorship and sponsorship are key facets of our culture at Morgan Lewis. Every Morgan Lewis associate is paired with an associate mentor as well as a partner mentor who provides career and practice guidance. While associate mentors focus on early integration into the firm, partner mentors actively engage and work with our associates to help them identify their career goals and objectives as well as achieve them. Beyond our formal Associate Mentoring Program, our Diverse Associate Sponsorship Program pairs diverse associates with a high-level sponsor and a member of the firm’s practice group management in addition to a partner mentor and associate mentor. This holistic team approach allows us to best support our associates and set them up for continued success at the firm. Learn more about our culture.