Since its inception in 2015, the Mosaic mentoring scheme has paired nearly 80 in-house lawyers, offering career guidance, coaching, and cross-industry insights and perspectives. We speak to its founders, Emma Sharpe and Claire Debney, about the ethos of the scheme, the particular importance of mentoring for the in-house community, and how you can get involved further.
The idea for a mentoring scheme was shaped by Claire and Niamh Grogan. After a successful pilot involving Visa Europe, RB, HSBC, British Gas, M&S and Vodafone, we took on the scheme, developed it and launched it as Mosaic in 2015, sending out a series of regular communications and hosting quarterly events. We have nearly 80 mentoring pairs to date.
We were constantly hearing the same refrain: ‘I wish I could find someone who could help me.’ Most people have a line manager, of course, but you still both work for the same organisation; you don’t necessarily have the ability to speak with them independently. Mosaic offers a confidential space for the mentee to speak with someone unrelated to their business or industry. The challenges are often the same, regardless of whether you work in hospitality, pharmaceuticals or consumer products. We think that people take some comfort in that fact. It removes that feeling of isolation.
In-house is also a growing profession; we saw Mosaic as a way of trying to bring people together. We work in complex organisations with high expectations placed on us. There are a lot of things that no one teaches you. It’s good to have someone to speak to who has been there and survived.
You are uniquely placed as in-house counsel – you have a touchpoint in almost every aspect of the business. That broad approach can be very challenging; you need resilience, confidence and self-awareness, and to be able to draw on all your skills. To have someone who can talk around what that looks like in practice is really important.
It’s also about managing your career and professional development. It’s rare for there to be budget for that in-house. Similarly, your line manager may not have your professional development at the top of their agenda. A lot of people we have met and interviewed have said that they were unlikely to get promoted any time soon because people stay in their jobs for so long, so they don’t know how to move forward. They need to find other ways to develop. Career progression in-house isn’t as black and white as it is in private practice.
The great thing about Mosaic is that it started as a mentoring programme, but it has become a platform for us to provide all these learning and development opportunities for our participants: understanding the correct mentoring etiquette; improving communication and listening skills; and how to structure the meetings effectively. It also allows us on a broader basis to share the things that interest us and we think will help others.
You have to be a legally qualified in-house lawyer, whether that be a solicitor, trade mark attorney or patent attorney. Generally speaking, you need to be based in the south east, although we do have people from as far as the south west and the Midlands. We encourage one or two face-to-face meetings a year – it’s really important to establish a connection between mentor and mentee as early on as possible in the relationship. But we are canvassing our members about whether we introduce virtual mentoring – if people are comfortable using Facetime or Skype, and it gives them a mentoring opportunity they otherwise wouldn’t have, we’ll consider it as the primary method of communication between pairings.
We actually have a three-year plan for Mosaic, because we see more and more opportunities to extend the scheme to different cohorts of people; trainees and apprentices, for example, we think our junior mentees will make great mentors for them.
The most important thing is that you are willing to help and able to actively listen. You need to be able to give yourself to a mentee for one hour every two months. All sorts of people can be mentors, because people are looking for different things at different times. In this respect, we are looking at fine-tuning the mentoring offering according to the individual’s needs – for example, someone may be looking for a project-based mentoring responsibility, or for a short-term mentor to address a particular challenge they are currently facing.
That’s up to them, though we encourage a face-to-face meeting within the first few months. You will need to agree with each other if and when the relationship is over – show them the courtesy that you are either stepping away because you have got what you needed, or you cannot commit any longer.
Claire has three mentees and Emma has two. Without having the mentor label, Claire has mentored and coached Emma for over 10 years. You just need to have someone who has your best interests at heart, that can help you see clearly.
There is a form which you can fill in online on our website (www.mosaicforlawyers.com). The questions are focused and should only take about 10 minutes to complete. For example, if you are a potential mentee, we ask you: What are your current challenges? What are you trying to achieve in the next 12 months? We match applicants ourselves two to three times a year. We have just finished the matching those mentees that were left over from the 2016 applications, and will begin the process again at the end of the summer. If you’d like to get in touch, email email us at email@example.com.
We encourage mentees to become mentors too.
Mentees and mentors will always have access to us. We have quarterly get-togethers with expert speakers. There is also guidance on mentoring etiquette and some FAQ on our website. The next event is in June.
Simon Burden is a senior solicitor, competition law at Vodafone Group. His mentor is Chris Fowler, general counsel UK Commercial Legal Services at BT Group. Here, they share their experiences of Mosaic, and the benefits their mentoring relationship has brought to their personal and professional development.
Simon: When I first signed up for Mosaic, I wasn’t sure how valuable I would find it. I have now over 10 years’ PQE as a competition lawyer, and felt quite confident in making my own decisions. But the conversations I have had with Chris have been really helpful. As you become more advanced in your career, a mentor becomes more of a sounding board for your thoughts and ideas, more of an coach than an adviser. When I was offered my current role at Vodafone, I decided to speak Chris before I took the offer – he could see how energised I was by the prospect. It was great having someone play that back to me. He also gave me some knowledge on what Vodafone was like as a place to work and, given I was working as a competition lawyer in a bank, what the telecoms industry is like for a competition lawyer.
It has been good to be able to talk to Chris about my working relationship with my boss and where I see my career going. It’s really valuable to have those kinds of conversations with more senior people in-house, because one of the tricky things about being an in-house lawyer is that there isn’t an obvious ‘vertical’ career progression path. In my practice area, there are maybe only twenty heads of competition law in London and most of them will be happy to do that role until they retire. If you’re someone who wants to find new challenges, you need to find novel ways to do that, which involves either moving beyond doing just competition law in your existing company, or moving industries to find fresh competition law issues. Chris helped me to realise that I wouldn’t want to do anything else other than competition law in a bank, and this is one reason why I decided to move to Vodafone.
I plan to meet with Chris again soon to talk about my experiences so far at Vodafone, and what I think my career goals are for the next two years.
Chris: I have mentored a number of people within BT, but Mosaic is the first mentoring scheme I have taken part in externally. To mentor someone from a totally different organisation has been valuable for me personally, because I have learned to understand people’s frustrations in a quite open way, which you don’t necessarily do in your own business. I’ve also gained a different insight into what challenges they are trying to address, which has made me appreciate whether I need to address them in my own team and within BT.
One of the things I have learned is that it can be some of the smallest things that actually can be the most useful to someone. You can really explore what has held someone back, what would they like to do next, and so on.
I have become a better listener through mentoring Simon. You can’t make assumptions about a company you don’t work for – mentoring encourages you to start at the beginning and ask basic questions before you can properly understand their aspirations. I’ve got a really good appreciation of how other legal functions work and how they deal with developing their people and their career progression and training.