New Zealand Law Society - NZLS Mentoring Programme – Interview with Victoria Rea

NZLS Mentoring Programme – Interview with Victoria Rea

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Have you had a mentor or been a mentor? Please can you describe the experience in a few words.

I have been a mentor and a mentee before whilst studying at Victoria University of Wellington. Throughout law school there are a variety of opportunities to engage in different mentoring programmes. In first year, there is a mentoring programme that pairs you up with a senior law student. These relationships, especially in the beginning, often became a quasi-student-tutor relationship as many first years utilise the relationship for study notes and advice from their senior mentor on how to get into second year law.

I participated in this programme both as a mentee and mentor and found it an invaluable experience to be able to talk through study techniques and the process of getting into law school with someone who had been there and done that. It was also helpful in order to dispel myths common around law school for example needing an A average to get into second year. As a mentor I found the experience rewarding and fairly insightful, it gave you a good perspective on how far you had grown up and how much you had learnt. Things that first year’s struggle with such as case law interpretation and statute analysis become second nature and it can be rewarding to be able to develop those skills in another student. It was also rewarding to be able to participate in the experience given that I had gained so much from being a mentee myself.

As a senior student at law school you are also able to participate in the Bridging the Gap programme run in conjunction with the Wellington Young Lawyers Committee. This programme aimed to pair up senior law students with graduates between 1-5 years out of law school. I found this programme to be equally rewarding as a mentee as it created access to a junior lawyer who could help prepare you for the transition from university to working life. Students often found these mentors the most valuable during summer clerk and graduate recruitment where their mentor could help prepare them for questions they were going to be asked and read through the materials they were going to submit such as their CV and cover letter.

At various other times through law school and now the beginning of my career I have sought out mentorship from individuals who I have identified through various means to seek advice on the path forward and the different options available. At university many of these mentors were lecturers or honours supervisors in addition to the Dean of Law School, now out of law school I still keep in contact with these mentors and they continue to be helpful in offering a sounding board for ideas and advice.

Many law firms including my own have informal mentoring in their workplaces where a senior lawyer in informally paired with a junior lawyer to help settle them into the workplace, learning the different tools and styles of the firm but also to provide practical advice when encountering new and unfamiliar tasks. These programmes offer the benefit of being fairly informal and low pressure and offer fairly firm specific advice.

I have also sought mentorship recently through the new NZLS mentoring programme. I have been matched up with a mentor and I am really happy with how well it is going. It is early days for our mentoring relationship, but we met up and I already appreciate how practical and helpful her advice has been for any question that I come across.

This may seem like a very large number of mentors to have accumulated but from a very early time I was told that broadening your network of mentors is really important. Some mentors will only exist for a period of time in your life, whilst others will continue with you through your career development.

How do you think mentoring assisted you with your career and personal development?

Much of this I have discussed above, but I have found and expect to find that mentor relationships have been and will continue to be important for the development of career and personally other aspects of my life.

I think mentoring is inherently valuable at any point in your career. It can create communication pathways with people you might never come across but who have experienced similar situations and can provide meaningful advice on practical steps moving forward.

Mentors can also be helpful to see the variety of ways in which people’s careers progress. There is no one clear pathway to reach any career goal and it can be helpful to discuss the different avenues other people have tried and whether or not they were successful. They can help you think of different opportunities to try or people to get in contact with when you are assessing next steps in your career. They may even be able to provide contacts and connections for new job opportunities as well as providing guidance on interviewing and other job application techniques.

I think being a mentor also has a lot of positive rewards. There is nothing better than seeing someone who you have coached and advised succeeding at what they do and getting involved in exciting opportunities. It engenders a sense of pride in their achievements. There is also an element of giving back and providing advice to those who come after you, in the same way you were provided mentorship when you were developing.

In a recent NZLS Lawyer Survey only 36% of lawyers reported feeling well connected to others in the profession, and just 29% of lawyers agreed that the legal profession values diversity and inclusion and meets the needs of diverse groups. In your view, how can mentoring programmes help?

I think in a profession as varied as law it is relatively easy to feel disconnected. Practitioners operate across the country and may have moved away from home to study and away from their city of study again to work. They may not have any connections in the city they end up working in, whether it be in a city or in a rural centre. The hours that many legal staff work also facilitate a lack of connection through large amounts of time spent at their workplaces instead of fostering relationships with other external to their firm.

Whilst it is easy to become fairly familiar with your work colleagues, but this connection can vary from a firm of several hundred and a large graduate year group to a boutique firm, small chambers or sole practitioner who may only engage with one or two others a day. Even in a large firm it can be relatively easy to feel connected only to your specialist team members and isolated from the rest of the firm.

There are a number of organisations who host events that encourage connection and communication between members of the profession such as NZLS, AYL, AWLA and ADLS however these can be daunting for junior lawyers to attend when they don’t know anyone else attending. Many lawyers, not even just junior lawyers would feel confronted by entering a room of people they don’t know and feeling as though everyone is already connected when this may not be the reality.

It’s understandable that many people in the profession do not feel connected to others in the profession but the mentoring programme can help to develop those connections. The mentoring programme doesn’t exclusively just match you with one mentor, it does enable you to create a range of professional connections. If you choose the traditional route and select one mentor to work with for the year this can open up a range of other connections, they may invite you to professional events, conferences, seminars or social occasions which you might otherwise have not been able to attend or have the confidence to attend by yourself. They may also act as an intermediary at events or even just through individual interaction where they can facilitate an introduction between yourself and other members of the profession.

I think the way that the NZLS mentoring programme is set up removes some of the awkwardness and nerves associated with a junior cold-calling a senior practitioner to form a mentoring relationship. It’s also set up so that you can essentially customise and search for the characteristics that you are seeking in a mentor and get directly matched with someone who you think will provide you the most beneficial mentoring relationship.

How can mentees drive the mentoring relationship?

I think for a junior lawyer entering the profession it can often be a daunting task to approach a senior member of the profession and seek a mentoring relationship. As a junior I know I often feel intimidated by the wealth of experience and skill from the partners and barristers that I interact with. This is one of the benefits of the launch of the NZLS mentoring programme. It removes the awkwardness and establishes from the outset that those on the platform are comfortable being approached to be a mentor

I think for a mentoring relationship to be fruitful it is best driven by the mentee determining what they want from the relationship and finding a mentoring who is able to provide it. This could be as simple as wanting to hear stories about different pieces of litigation or commercial deals to have direct practical questions about how to tackle something you are working on. Advice I have previously been given on maintaining mentoring relationships is to be clear about your expectations and maintain regular contact once a month to once every eight weeks. Every time you have a catch up make sure that you have specific questions to ask and that you are making the most out of the time you have available. It is important to recognise that both parties involved will have limitations on their time and how available they are to meet, so making the most out of any opportunity to meet will help to progress your relationship.

Mentorship is really all about asking the hard questions and saying yes to the opportunities that may come along with it. The value of the relationship is all down to what you put into it.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I definitely recommend the NZLS mentoring programme for both junior and senior practitioners in both a mentor and mentee capacity. The programme is invaluable by creating an easy to use platform in which you can select or be paired with a mentor/ mentee that matches the characteristics that you nominate, whether it be area of law or working style. The mentoring programme enables you and your mentor to figure out what relationship works best for both of you and get the most out of the opportunity the NZLS has provided.

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