Tamasin Dorosti advises junior lawyers on the value of having a mentor to guide your early legal career.
Establishing a mentor-mentee relationship is invaluable to students during the early stages of a legal career. In this article I reflect on the different mentors I have had and hope to provide guidance to students looking to find a mentor.
There are two types of mentor relationships – formal and informal. Often employers and academic institutions have formal mentoring schemes which you can sign up to (if you haven’t been told about it, make sure to ask if they do). Secondly, the informal kind where the relationship develops organically and whilst not ever defined as ‘mentoring’ that is what it resembles.
Six years ago, I began my first legal position as a legal assistant. I developed a relationship with my line manager akin to that of mentor-mentee. Over time he helped me with my CV, cover letters and applications for training contracts. I learnt a lot from having his input (often in the form of tracked changes and comments) and I believe that both during the job and through this additional career support he helped me develop solid drafting and writing skills. After he left the organisation we stayed in touch and later when I secured a training contract I couldn’t wait to give him the good news. Whilst I hadn’t actively sought out a mentor, that support was invaluable to me at the start of my career. It won’t always be possible to have that same type of relationship with your line manager, but you should always test the water with colleagues who you admire or who you want to learn from and see how responsive they are.
Another way to develop an informal mentor relationship is through expanding your legal network by attending events where you can network and meet other legal professionals, for example by joining the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) nationally and becoming involved locally. During my involvement with the JLD I met many professionals who I looked up to and who possessed the skills, knowledge and experience that I wanted to gain. You can build and maintain relationships with people through staying in contact through email and LinkedIn and whilst I made lots of contacts which is great, it was a very small percentage which evolved into a mentoring relationship. Each person you meet and speak to is a learning experience and it is worth keeping in mind that a mentor is likely to only be around for a specific stage in your career anyway.
Whilst working in-house I became a member of Aspire which is a network for junior lawyers in-house. As part of this, I signed up to the Lexis Nexis mentoring scheme and I was matched with a mentor. Different to my previous experience, this was a formal mentor-mentee relationship. I did not know my mentor so our relationship was starting completely from scratch. We speak every couple of months on the phone as it is more difficult to meet in person, although we have managed that a couple of times. We have a relatively flexible agenda. I talk about what’s happening with my training and she provides guidance and comments. I have had this mentor now for nearly two years and I think it is going well. We can call time on the relationship at any point if it becomes unhelpful or is no longer working.
Most recently, I was allocated a mentor as part of my training contract. This is generally a monthly catch up on how things are going. It is very relaxed and I always come away feeling very empowered and positive. This relationship I have found to be very beneficial because although I haven’t worked directly for my mentor, she has quickly recognised my work ethic and personality which means our meetings are productive. It was thanks to this mentor and her support that I am writing this article while working in Brussels – an opportunity I may not have had were it not for her encouragement and advice.
Before starting to take any steps in the search for a mentor, make sure you understand why you want one – is it because you want a promotion for example. Know what you want to gain from the relationship. This can then help you identify the right person - whether it is a colleague, how senior they are, which area of work they practice in etc.
As you grow and develop you will seek out different mentors for different things. You will easily be able to identify which individuals are open to the idea of having that kind of relationship and those which are less interested. But never start by asking someone if they want to be your mentor. If you have identified someone, take things easy by meeting up for coffee every so often and seeing where things go from there.
One of the foundations of the mentoring relationship is trust – the best and most effective relationships are built on trust and this has been a key foundation for each of my mentor relationships. This must be combined with commitment as well. Both parties need to be committed to the relationship and the mentor must always have in mind the best interests of the mentee. Make sure your potential mentor is someone you completely trust and can be honest and open with.