Have you had a mentor or been a mentor? Please can you describe the experience in a few words.
As a mentor, I have been involved in approximately half a dozen mentoring programmes, mostly as a lawyer mentoring law students. I have also been mentored as part of a Bridging the Gap between law school and the legal profession when I was studying law at Victoria University.
I believe that those I have mentored have been able to obtain valuable insight into the daily practice of law that they do not get access to simply by studying law at university. Students I have mentored have often been unsure of what to expect or how their careers might shape themselves and I have provided them with a sounding board and an opportunity to explore their insecurities in a safe and productive way. Having had those insecurities myself, it can be reassuring to students to know that those who are doing their best to forge ahead with their career may have also been beset by their own self-doubt and not knowing what the future may bring or even exactly what they want it to hold.
One of the positive aspects of being a mentee myself was a growing appreciation of the broad spectrum of careers a lawyer may have and the positives and negatives of different types of legal workplaces. For example, I became aware of the potential benefits of working in smaller or boutique legal practices in terms of having a broader range of experiences and for learning through being ‘thrown in the deep end’. It gave me a true understanding that every lawyer’s career journey is unique and there is a much broader range of legal roles available than what may be readily apparent from simply attending university lectures.
How do you think mentoring could assist/assists/assisted you with your career and personal development?
Being mentored provides you with an opportunity to explore with a trusted person whether your experiences are as you perceive them to be, and it allows you to hear from a more experienced practitioner as to avenues for development both within your current workplace and externally. Some lawyers are able to receive mentoring of some form within their current workplace environment, but it is always good to have more than one voice in helping you assess your progress, open doors and to regularly re-evaluate your goals. A mentor can stand back and view the bigger picture much easier than you as an individual can.
However, it is not just being mentored that can assist with career and personal development, mentoring can as well. Being in a position where you are asked to articulate various thoughts and ideas in relation to working in the law, and listening to the perspectives of others, can help you actually assess your own situation in a way that, working busily in your own role, you might forget to. It also develops your leadership skills, helps you make an impact on others around you and keeps you abreast of how more junior people are thinking, which can only assist with your own current or future management of others. Mentoring also ensures that you never forget to retain the humanity of being a lawyer.
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?
Sometimes, the unfortunate reality of legal workplaces is that lawyers are simply too busy doing their own client work to remember the importance of ensuring they are well connected with their colleagues. I am a big believer in fostering and empowering a positive working culture within legal workplaces to allow connectedness to thrive. Mentoring assists in this goal as it results in people building relationships and encourages the development of a mindset that seeks positive change in the places where the mentor and mentee work. Mentoring programmes promote collegiality in the legal profession and on an individual basis they help you expand your network.
In addition, where a lawyer may be part of a minority group and feeling somewhat isolated at work, having a supportive mentor could make a crucial difference to their experiences in the profession. It could even lead to the lawyer being retained in the profession where he or she may otherwise have dropped out. For mentoring to make a difference to diversity and inclusion, there must however be a careful matching process undertaken to ensure that the mentor is an appropriate one for that particular person as this can make all the difference to feeling less like an outsider and more like an integral member of the profession. Support networks for people of diverse backgrounds are an essential component for improving diversity and inclusion long-term.
How can mentees drive the mentoring relationship?
The mentee is generally entering the mentoring relationship as the person seeking to gain insight, and to learn and develop. Consequently, it can be useful if the mentee knows the kinds of things he or she would like to discuss with the mentor, as this will help focus the mentoring relationship to optimise its usefulness. The mentee can always suggest topics of conversation ahead of any meeting, as this will allow the mentor to prepare in their own mind, the kind of things they might want to say. If both the mentee and mentor are able to enter a conversation knowing the topics that will be covered this can help focus the relationship. However, mentees should nevertheless be open to more free-flowing conversations as it is sometimes only through these wider discussions that a particularly valuable insight might emerge.
On a more functional level, mentees can also drive the mentoring relationship by ensuring that catch-ups occur on a regular basis, such as by reaching out to their mentor to set up times to meet when catch-ups have not yet been organised. They can also reach out to mentors outside the designated meeting times if there is a burning issue they want to discuss, and indeed mentors should be encouraging mentees to do this. Mentees should ensure that they know the best way of getting hold of their mentor and remain as appropriately communicative as possible to prevent the relationship diminishing over time.
Anything else you'd like to add?
More than anything else, being a mentor or mentee (or both!) is an incredibly rewarding experience that I would highly recommend to anybody.
I am delighted that the New Zealand Law Society has launched a nine-month trial of a free mentoring pilot programmes for lawyers. Although there are a number of lawyer-student mentoring programmes out there, there seems to have been a mentoring gap between individuals within the profession and outside their own workplaces. I would encourage everyone to take part to help their fellow lawyers become the best that they can be.