Editors’ Note: Read about Zachary Maldonado, a Los Angeles associate in our Litigation Department, in the latest installment of our ongoing Faces of MoFo series.
I have always been interested in how mentorship can impact people. Oftentimes, people underestimate themselves and discount what they believe they are capable of because they are not familiar with the challenges ahead of them. But a good mentor can help someone to rise to a higher standard, because a mentor sees what they are capable of, even if they do not see it themselves.
Much of who I am has been shaped by those who came before me: my brothers, my parents, my grandparents. All have provided mentorship in their own ways, informing my decisions along my path. Starting a new chapter as a first-year associate at a large law firm was a challenge, and I found myself wondering whether I would “fit in” in such an unfamiliar environment. As the grandchild of an immigrant, I did not grow up around lawyers or have any exposure to or familiarity with the legal field (outside of repeat viewings of A Few Good Men). These are the spaces where imposter syndrome can take root and grow. But mentorship can change that and can provide someone like me with much-needed reassurance that they are where they belong.
Since starting at Morrison Foerster, I have been fortunate to cross paths with tremendous people who happen to be extraordinary lawyers. Mentorship has been a resource I have found often in unexpected places: striking up a conversation with a partner I’ve never worked with in a shared elevator ride, engaging in a Teams chat with a fellow associate for advice on how to tackle a new challenge, or even representing Morrison Foerster on the basketball court in the lawyers’ league. I have learned that mentorship is not a scarce resource, but it is one that requires active cultivation.
People often ask me what I enjoy most about my job. My answer changes from time to time. Sometimes the answer is the work itself, when there is a particularly challenging case presenting a unique problem that our team is trying to solve. Other times the answer is simply just the people: the partners who take time to shape young lawyers and the associates who often provide life- and time-saving advice (and exemplars). But often the answer is that I am working at a firm that genuinely embraces diversity, where I do not feel compelled to change who I am to fit in, and where mentorship affirms that I belong.
Outside work, I enjoy taking on more of a mentor role for others where I can. I have been fortunate to serve as a mentor to diverse aspiring law students for the past four years for the non-profit Legal Education Access Pipeline (LEAP). It has been tremendously gratifying to see others grow confident in themselves as they begin their own journey in the legal field. People often surprise themselves with what they are capable of. A great mentor can catalyze that.