Christianah Babajide - Legal mentoring: an insider’s view
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Christianah Babajide, an undergraduate law student studying in London, was one of the 15 Aspiring Solicitors in the United Kingdom to secure a space on the competitive Aspiring Solicitors Mentoring Scheme. As the program comes to an end, she talks about the significance of mentoring and offers an overview of the Aspiring Solicitors Mentoring scheme.
What is mentoring?
Mentoring is the relationship where a mentee is paired up with a mentor (normally someone with more experience in the mentee’s desired profession) to help them develop and achieve their goals, be it personal or professional. For example, Aspiring Solicitors runs several mentoring programmes for its members as they take the first steps towards a legal career. This is useful as a mentor can prepare you for job interviews by going over possible questions or critiquing and improving your application forms. It is a chance to receive tailored advice or hear someone talk about their training contract or practice in law.
Access and opportunity: just one of the Aspiring Solicitors mentoring schemes
Aspiring Solicitors, a thriving organisation committed to increasing diversity in the legal profession, has set up several mentoring schemes for its members from under-represented backgrounds. In addition to the other events, competitions and legal opportunities it offers, I participated in the Aspiring Solicitors Advisory Board Mentoring Scheme, which involves a series of face-to-face meetings (eg, coffee or lunch dates) with your mentor, sometimes in the City or at their firm.
In terms of securing employment in the legal sector, the scheme can be invaluable to many people, particularly those who are state-educated or from the BME/LGBT community. As LCN’s Josh Richman said in his latest article: “Many face unfair, illogical barriers to their career ambitions in a profession which has traditionally hired white, male, privately educated candidates in overwhelmingly disproportionate numbers.”
One of the crucial benefits of the scheme is its emphasis on instilling confidence, which is drilled into those fortunate enough to attend a private school from an early age and which can be lacking in other candidates. The result of an increased availability of mentoring schemes will be a supportive profession which widens opportunities in law by providing access and assistance to students from underrepresented groups.
My mentor was a trainee solicitor at Norton Rose Fulbright on the Aspiring Solicitors Junior Advisory Board. She provided me with one-to-one advice and guidance on my CV, as well as applications. Importantly, she gave me the opportunity to expand my knowledge of the City firm through networking events with Norton Rose Fulbright partners and associates.
The meetings with my mentor were informative and tended to focus on developing my commercial awareness; a weakness of mine. I left each meeting motivated to stay up-to-date on daily developments in the business and commercial world. In just a few weeks, I went from knowing little about the political climate in Westminster to writing an article on the far-reaching implications of Brexit on the FTSE 100, FTSE 250, the legal profession and property ladder, as well as explaining the reactions of UK stock markets and businesses. I consider myself to be far more up to speed with the needs of a range of businesses and industries, with a clear understanding of how a transaction moves through all the stages of negotiation and decision-making in the client’s business, than had previously been the case. I credit the scheme with my development in this regard.
What have I learnt?
My mentor taught me that improving commercial awareness needn’t mean slaving away over the Financial Times (FT) on a daily basis. The trick is to diversify the way you approach commercial awareness to ensure you remain interested and split the news into more manageable chunks. I knew I wasn’t going to become commercially aware overnight, so I took the initiative to start a journal where I jotted down bullet points on contemporary topics, but not stopping there – I also analysed which sectors would benefit or be impacted negatively, asking myself what significant factors have affected an industry in recent years and identifying the key qualities essential for a successful company. This took practice, but with time I could do this inwardly when reading the news, be it the FT or The Economist.
Why apply for a mentoring scheme?
As a mentee of the Aspiring Solicitors Mentoring Scheme, I had the opportunity to secure a place at LawCareers.Net’s student conferences, CityLawLIVE or NationalLawLIVE, entry for which tends to be very over-subscribed. Both are intensive full-day conferences which take place in December – and cover every aspect of the life and business of lawyers and law firms. The conferences also involve close contact with top law firm sponsors and provide you with detailed guidance on how to launch a successful legal career. If you want to learn more about life as a City lawyer, CityLawLIVE is the perfect event for you; but if you’re interested in life as a lawyer in a national firm, then NationalLawLIVE is a better fit.
Your law degree may provide you with an appreciation of the pillars of English Law that underpin every transaction in the business world, but a mentor can really assist you in developing the non-academic qualities required to be a successful lawyer. As a broad point, any aspiring lawyer should ensure that they meet as many people and develop as many working relationships as possible.
The scheme offers a fantastic networking opportunity, as well as the chance to observe a successful lawyer, develop communication skills, enhance long-term career planning and gain great practical tips and advice from someone who’s ‘been there’. Other benefits include having your voice heard at more senior levels, improved self-awareness and being held to account for your progress on personal/career goals you have set yourself.
Here are my top tips.
1. Remember your mentor is a volunteer
They are taking time out of their busy lives to help you develop skills, so be respectful of their time.
2. Take responsibility for your own learning
It is important to remember that you are being led to the water; your mentor cannot force you to drink. A mentorship is a two-way street, therefore although your mentor has the potential to equip you with knowledge, you must be willing to take responsibility and act on any advice given.
3. Come to each meeting prepared
This tip ties in with respecting your mentor’s time and being efficient. If you have been asked to complete a study exercise or research an M&A deal, it is advisable that you do so, as the working relationship will develop quicker and you will learn more.
If you have been lucky enough to secure a place on the Aspiring Solicitors Mentoring Scheme, make sure you make the most out of it. Rather than approaching the scheme as simply coffee dates with your mentor, use it as an opportunity to discover which firm is the right fit for you, what makes the firm distinctive, not only to their clients but also to the people who work there. But most importantly, don’t forget to have fun – the scheme will hopefully be a positive experience for you look back on!
Christianah is a London law student and is the editor-in-chief of her university's law society online magazine.