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Mentoring

Mentoring

Harriet Iles

10/06/2021

The long road, from starting your legal studies to becoming a fully qualified solicitor or barrister, can feel lonely. For me, one of the most difficult aspects of starting my journey into law was knowing what I was getting myself into! 

I’m the first generation of my family to have attended university, and I grew up without family members or family friends being practising lawyers. Lawyers always seemed like distant, inaccessibly bright people – intimidatingly so. It wasn't easy to form an accurate view of what being a lawyer was really like, and the profession as a whole felt quite intangible. The lack of legal role models in my personal life, along with imposter syndrome, made it hard to imagine myself achieving my goals. 

This post isn’t going to tell you that lawyers aren’t sharp and accomplished – they are. But they're also just people who have invested a great deal of time and energy into getting where they want to be. Becoming a licensed professional in any field takes tenacity and resilience. Although I’ve met lawyers – at university career events, firm open days, online skill sessions and on my course – getting to know someone one-on-one is very different. It really can't be overstated how inspiring it is to hear that a role model was once in the same position as you, with the same anxieties, challenges and setbacks that you're currently facing. And that's where mentors come in!

My experience

I’ve had two main mentors – both of which were found through schemes. While the first was a one-off call with an international injury partner, I am fortunate to also benefit from an ongoing mentoring relationship with an in-house sports lawyer. The difference between these two professionals could not be starker, which I think reflects one of the huge benefits of mentoring itself. You don’t necessarily have to be paired with someone working in the practice area you aspire to enter. Having mentors from different backgrounds means that I've learned from a diverse wealth of knowledge and experience, which has contributed to my overall understanding of the legal profession. It has also helped me to consider areas of law that I would have otherwise overlooked.

A one-off call and an ongoing relationship have provided various advantages. Having a one-off call allowed me to ask focused questions to establish a 'snapshot' insight into a day in the partner's life. On the other hand, my ongoing mentorship has provided me with a deeper and more balanced view of life as a lawyer in the longer term. Rather than asking lots of focused questions, meetings with my long-term mentor are more informal and have been a great way to build confidence.

There have been three main things that I’ve gained through these two experiences. First, hearing about their backgrounds and getting a flavour for their current day-to-day life has been a way for me to measure how I fit into the mould. As someone who started with zero connections, this has been a great way for me to find commonalities between myself and those of the lawyers I've met. This has helped me to break down the intimidating, unattainable idea of 'the lawyer' that I had built. Rather than trying to fit myself into this standard, I have become more confident in who I am already; I don't need to become 'good enough'! 

Second, I have been able to ask questions I'd previously felt unable to ask on a public forum or during formal events. Meeting practising lawyers one-on-one has enabled me to ask more frank questions about work/life balance, handling stress or being a woman in a corporate workplace.

Third, I began looking for mentors during the application and exam season while preparing for assessment centres. Speaking with professionals who had been through the entire process and come out on the other side enabled me to grow more confident – particularly by practising interview answers with my mentor and receiving feedback.

How you can best find and use mentoring opportunities 

LinkedIn is, in my view, the best source for finding mentorship. Even if you aren’t connected with lawyers that you’re comfortable reaching out to – you’ve likely stumbled across some mentoring schemes that your peers are involved with. All you have to do for most of these schemes is submit your name, contact details, career aspirations and current course. After a suitable mentor is found and you’re introduced via email, it’s completely up to you to arrange the first meeting! 

The best way to use a mentoring opportunity depends on many things such as the type of lawyer you’re paired with, their availability and capability, your concerns and your goals. Ultimately, a mentoring relationship can be anything that you want it to be. If you’re particularly concerned about something at the time, you can fire questions at your mentor or use them as a sounding board. Alternatively, you could have a more informal relationship and benefit from getting to know your mentor on a personal level. 

If it’s just a one-off meeting, I would really recommend preparing a list of as many questions as you can think of. Having only one chance to speak with someone doesn’t put you at a disadvantage – it just means that you should be mindful not to waste the time that that person is giving to you! When I met with an international injury partner during a break in his workday, I came prepared with a list of about 30 questions and talking points. Having an abundance of questions allowed me to extract valuable information without wasting time thinking about what to say next. Equally, make sure you’re not just firing questions at your mentor without considering the flow of the conversation itself and the time the lawyer has. During my call, I ended up asking questions that I hadn’t pre-planned, but having my list gave me peace of mind and something to fall back on.

If you’re fortunate enough to start an ongoing mentoring relationship with a lawyer you can, of course, prepare some questions... But, I think developing a relationship is much more important. If your mentor is anything like mine, they’re genuinely very interested in learning about where you are in your journey into the legal profession, your studies as well as your concerns. Let them see your personality and nourish the connection to keep it strong as your respective careers evolve!