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Mentoring: How the profession helps those who need it

01 June 2018 - By Craig Stephen

The legal profession’s mentoring programmes often go under the radar but they are an invalubale resource for new, young and even highly-experienced lawyers.

The work on the programmes is ongoing and there’s been considerable work this year already to provide mentees for those who work in the Bar, young lawyers and female Māori practitioners.

Kathryn Beck, Prue Kapua, Judge Sarah Reeves
Kathryn Beck, Prue Kapua, Judge Sarah Reeves
at the launch of the Ngā Wāhine Rōia Māori
Mentoring Programme

The New Zealand Bar Association has had a mentoring programme in place for many years, but despite being well promoted on the website, in articles, and member communications, it didn’t have a great deal of uptake.

That prompted a rethink by the Association as Executive Director Melissa Perkin explains.

“We had a Strategic Plan and this was one of the areas the Association’s Council was really keen to refocus on and reinvigorate the programme. So we strengthened the guidelines establishing a more precise framework so that the mentors and the mentees knew exactly what they should expect from a mentoring relationship and also what was beyond the realms of that relationship.”

To tie in with this, the NZBA has hosted two events, in Auckland and Wellington. At the Auckland meeting Kate Davenport QC and one of her mentees Alison Todd from Crown Law both spoke.

“This was particularly well received and we have also made an effort to particularly promote it to younger members though it is not all one way in terms of age; older members can very learn from younger professsionals,” says Ms Perkin.

In the past few months, Ms Perkin says between 16 and 20 people have signed up to be part of the programme and a “good number” of lawyers want to be mentors.

The NZBA is keen to get more intermediate level mentors (5 to 15 years PQE), and more regional, female and ethnically diverse mentors.

The mentor can provide a helpful “sounding board” for the mentee in advancing their professional development.

Melissa Perkin
Melissa Perkin 

“It can be for a very junior person to be mentored by someone who might be, say, five years down the track and they may be able to give them assistance, for instance, over day to day things like file management then they might also like to have a mentoring relationship with someone who is 15 or 20 years out because they would want to get some advice on career options.”

Melissa Perkin says starting out as a barrister or moving to another region can be an intimidating process particularly around having to market yourself.

“It’s quite a solo existence. And one of the things that barristers are not always especially good at is promoting themselves; they don’t get taught at law school how to be a marketer or how to run a business so there’s a range of areas where the mentors can provide advice on.”

She says barristers, given their independent existence, are less able to rely on colleagues in a firm for advice and support. She says a mentoring programme has a real need due to the “levels of stress in the profession”.

The NZBA’s mentoring programme is unconnected to its Bar Care Committee, which provides a confidential advice service.

But with the bullying of practitioners by judges in current focus – as discussed in full in LawTalk 917, May 2018 – Ms Perkin says there could be an opportunity for barristers who are unhappy about their treatment in the courtroom to seek assistance from a mentor.

“But that may go a bit outside the mentoring programme remit and could also be dealt with by someone on the Bar Care Committee who might be able to provide assistance in that regard.”

Student mentoring

A punt for mentors for budding lawyers has led to 56 people putting up their hands to answer a call from the Wellington Young Lawyers Committee and Victoria University Law Students’ Society.

The Bridging the Gap programme is sponsored by the Institute of Professional Legal Studies and connects law students completing their studies with experienced lawyers, to help those students prepare for entry into the profession.

Events are also held during the year to facilitate interaction between law students and young lawyers. The Wellington Young Lawyers Committee also co-ordinates a workplace tours initiative as part of the programme, which focuses on offering students an insight to the range of legal roles outside of the oft-advertised career paths at national firms.

Mentoring Māori Lawyers

The Ngā Wāhine Rōia Māori Mentoring Programme 2018 is a Māori Law Society initiative which was launched at Parliament in April to prepare and support lawyers and senior law students. It particularly aids Māori women to establish networks with senior practitioners and strengthen networks between Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa members.

Emily Morrow
Emiy Morrow 

Organisers say the road to setting up the programme has not been easy.

“For the past four to five years, a key group of amazing wāhine have worked tirelessly gathering data and listening to the wāhine in our hunga about what support they need to stay and progress in the profession,” says Ophir Cassidy, Tumuaki wahine of Hunga Rōia.

“Based on the tuakana-teina relationship model, the programme pairs teina (junior) with tuakana (senior) members and aims to equip participants with tools for career development.”

The programme has 68 wāhine signed up from all over Aotearoa. There are 39 tuakana and 39 teina, with some wāhine signing up to be both.

“There have been times when I would have benefited from the opportunity to discuss a particular issue or situation in my career, with a more experienced colleague, to get a perspective which is connected, yet still objective,” Judge Sarah Reeves said at the launch.

“But I can also recall when other Māori women have extended the hand to pull me up, or through.

“The ultimate objective is to ensure we have more wāhine Māori not just entering the profession, but flourishing, and going on to attain senior roles in all areas of the law in greater numbers. We have no interest in being the exception to the rule.”

In-house mentoring

Many law firms have their own mentoring programme.

Emily Morrow, a former US-based lawyer and now a consultant in Auckland to lawyers and law firms, says a successful mentoring programme encourages the development of professional relationships so everybody benefits.

“It should embed well and become part of the fabric of a law office – in other words, ‘how we do things in this office’. When this happens, it encourages the development of more generalised, informal high trust/high communication professional relationships by enhancing everyone’s interactions with each other,” she says.

“The formal programme provides the momentum for enhanced informal interactions and how everyone treats each other in the work place. Law firms predictably experience better retention, higher morale, enhanced communication and productivity, better work flow and so on.

“Mentoring is important because, without it, younger lawyers will need to learn by trial and error and will lack the benefit of a quicker ramp-up into true professional competency.”

Business mentoring

For all lawyers, the actual business of law can be challenging. Therefore, the New Zealand Law Society has a relationship with Business Mentors New Zealand. Their mentors act as guide and sounding board for small- to medium-sized businesses to help develop their business potential.

Business Mentors has assisted more than 72,000 businesses since it was established in 1991. Its Business Mentoring Programme provides 12 months of one-on-one advice for business owners.

Volunteer business mentors with experience and empathy for small business offer guidance, act as a sounding board, challenge your thinking and provide you with an independent and fresh perspective.

Last updated on the 1st June 2018