The word "mentor" can imply a lot of different things to a lot of different people - guide, role model, coach, the individual who makes it her personal quest to make sure the person under her mentorship meets with success. A person might look to a good friend or colleague, admire the way she conducts her life and ask if she would be willing to act as mentor.
Other times, if you're fortunate, a mentor chooses you.
Rosaline L. (Roz) Zukerman took a professional interest in young attorney, Allie Gordon Weinstein. The two women had met through their rabbi, and Weinstein had attended the same high school as one of Zukerman's grandchildren. Weinstein worked in a family law firm but she was at a crossroads, and Zukerman knew it.
She was also in a position to offer both perspective and help. With training in psychology and counseling and more than 30 years of experience as a top-ranked family law attorney and mediator, Roz Zukerman was an ideal mentor.
"She encouraged me to start my own firm," says Weinstein who did just that. "She really believed in me and offered to be at my side for a lot of it. Without Roz, I would not have done it. I would not have had the guts."
"Allie was driving herself crazy," Zukerman recalls, "working on weekends, not having a life. I told her, 'You have to hire someone,' and she did.'"
Zukerman decided to put her assistance into practice via an already established program, JVS' WoMentoring™, which places mentees with specific personal and professional goals with women who are already established in their chosen fields. For Weinstein and Zukerman, who were already friends, this meant Zukerman made herself available for procedural advice, phone calls, encouragement or whatever else Weinstein needed. Zukerman took the relationship a step forward, even referring clients to her friend, colleague and now mentee.
"She's so calm and focused on solutions," Weinstein says of her mentor. "She's all about helping and giving back. I am her biggest fan."
Zukerman has been an active participant in WoMentoring™ and its funding arm, the WoMentoring™ Leadership Network (WLN), for more than four years. When she first learned of the program and saw a video that showed how participants are helped through WoMentoring™, she remembers being "floored." She calls the program "a woman's answer to the Old Boy Network."
"When I was growing up, there were very few things a woman could do," says Zukerman, a native of Chicago.
Her decision to attend law school took place after she had sent the last of her four children to college. Her husband, Jack, warned her that she would be 50 by the time she passed the state bar exam. Roz replied that she would be 50 regardless.
During her first year out of school, Zukerman worked briefly for another attorney, but found that corporate and tax law "seemed kind of cold to me."
"I started off on my own because I was too old to be a young associate and stay up until 2 a.m. every night. That wasn't for me," she said. "My generational peers and many of our friends were attorneys and I started getting referrals. One thing led to another."
The attorneys in the Law Offices of Rosaline L. Zukerman have more than 140 years of combined experience. They also all happen to be women, although Zukerman says she didn't deliberately set out to structure it that way.
Both Roz and Jack Zukerman - who will be honored with the JVS Champion Award at the agency's upcoming Strictly Business L.A. Luncheon May 8 - have long been mentors both to people within their respective professions and to those with different interests. Roz sees mentoring as "an extension of parenting" and considers shared values as a key component in the mentor-mentee relationship. For Jack, loyalty is paramount, along with smarts and the desire to perform and excel.
Weinstein, meanwhile, has learned one other key element from being a mentee of Roz Zukerman.
"Once I got my feet on the ground, I wanted to give back," she says. "So I became mentor to a student who is considering going to law school."