Mentoring is an informal and voluntary way of networking and learning. As part of Practising Well, the New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa provides a free and virtual National Mentoring Programme to its members. We spoke with Justin Kim from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and Sarah Retter from Fujitsu about their experience on the mentoring programme and what they got out of it.
Justin Kim recently started his job as Legal Adviser at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner but he couldn’t have made the leap without the helpful advice and guidance from his mentor Sarah. When he connected with Sarah as his mentor, Justin was working in a large national law firm. It was his first job after university, and the only environment that he’d worked in.
“I was looking for someone who could give me some insight into what its like working in a non-firm environment and I had heard from colleagues that it’s good to get an outside perspective” Justin says.
“I was also looking for someone who was in the ICT side of the law, who worked with commercial contracts, particularly in the tech sector.”
Justin logged in to the MentorLoop system administered by the Law Society and set up a profile.
“It was a really nice surprise when Sarah reached out a couple of weeks later.”
Sarah says that she reached out to Justin because she saw that they had some common points across their profiles, and thought that it was a cool way to connect to people with similar interests. “His goals and aims aligned with what I wanted to put in and get out of the programme” she says.
“I chose to sign up for the Mentoring Programme because as a young lawyer I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about my direction, where I was going and what I wanted to do.”
Sarah and Justin arranged to meet up for a coffee at a cafe near their offices and hit it off instantly. Justin says that he appreciated the fact that Sarah had also started out her career working in a firm, before shifting to an in-house role.
“It was good to talk to somebody more senior than me to provide insights about what it was like to be working in a space that I was really interested in and someone who had gone through a similar past to me as well.” Justin says that talking to Sarah helped him to make a decision on his career direction and take that jump from his first firm gig into an in-house role.
“Sarah’s insights were really helpful in making that decision. She’s been giving me guidance even after the move as well on how I can develop further in this specific context.”
Sarah says that she thinks the experience has been rewarding for them both. “We intend to continue catching up beyond the end of the programme because we get along really well, we enjoy talking to each other – just swapping stories and having that shared experience can make people feel less alone.
“I think it’s really good way for lawyers to firstly meet each other, because we don’t get an opportunity to do that often enough especially if we’re in in-house roles which I am.
“Having someone independent to talk to also brings a level of independence so you can feel comfortable discussing problems you don’t feel comfortable discussing in your own organisation.”
It wasn’t always easy but Sarah and Justin made time to catch up, and while they didn’t have a strict schedule they did try to book time well in advance.
“I really liked the check-ins from the Law Society they helped give a good cadence and for us to remember to do something. And once we got that cadence Justin and I have been talking on a more regular basis, whether we do that by Zoom or in person or on Teams or whatever we can manage in our own schedules which I think has been really good.”
Having online meetings has helped keep things going, as well as setting a topic for each session. “When we meet virtually we always talk with video on” Sarah says. “I think that’s really important because the stuff that you pick up it’s often not just in what people say, it’s in the way they say it or their body language. We also set a topic to talk about or focus on for each session which keeps our sessions on point.”
The opportunity to have these conversations helped Justin grow but it also helped broaden Sarah’s perspective too.
“Sarah and I have covered a lot of ground. She told me what it was like to work in an in-house environment and specific advice on how to make yourself seen in an organisation like that – moving from private practice to in-house.” Justin says that Sarah’s advice helped him to keep an open mind about meeting people and seeing opportunities, and she also suggested some ways to cope with the pressures of working as a lawyer. “We also talked a fair amount about the sort of non-work aspects of it – so keeping a fairly regular exercise routine, doing mindfulness exercises. It’s certainly something that’s helped her, and I’ve tried to incorporate that into my schedule as well.”
The benefits were not all one-way, with Sarah finding that she gained insight into people management from meeting with Justin. “In my case, it was good to hear from Justin how he likes to be managed, because we’re in a different age group to one another and they’re being taught in different ways to the ways we learned, so understanding that can be really valuable in terms of helping your own team.”
Overall it’s been an insightful and beneficial experience for both of them and one they would recommend to others. Sarah says that if you’re considering being a mentor or mentee, you should just go for it. “It has been really valuable for me to go through this too. Justin has made a big shift in his career and it’s nice to know that I supported him through that.
“We’ve all been young lawyers, and you never know you might learn something that will help you in your own management of staff as well so that’s what I would say to someone considering it.
“You’re there to help be a sounding board, not to have all the answers, and it being a shared experience makes it a richer experience as well.”
If you’re interested in joining the mentoring programme, either as a mentor or a mentee, it’s free to join. To get started email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.