Whether we call it mentoring, pupillage, articleship or internship, the terminology is less important than the introduction of a guided intervention where seniors in the profession, trained by professionals, in the art and science of mentoring or coaching, not only impart knowledge, professionalism and ethical competence to freshly minted attorneys or law school leavers. But they also support their dreams and aspirations by helping them to navigate the inevitable emotional and psychological challenges of personal and professional growth, all the while guiding them on their journey to professional self-actualisation. They are able to do this because they are trained by a professional, in how to do it.
In her article The Case for Structured Mentoring in the Legal Profession, IAPC&M Accredited Master Coach Lorna Phillips briefly outlines the merits of propagating a more structured and professional approach that should be rolled out nationwide in the legal profession.
Here are 3 practical tips on how to become a good and effective mentor:
1. A mentor needs the knowledge that the mentee is expecting to benefit from.
Knowledge here is not restricted to the subject and content of the law, but also about the wisdom of life and business life, about dealings with people and clients and about tackling downsides and problem-solving. Typically, an untrained mentor will pour out his life experiences in the hope that the mentee will catch on and learn the same lessons he learned. This is largely a waste of time. It may capture the junior’s interest, depending upon how good a storyteller the senior is, but it does nothing to build the mentee’s own capabilities for resilience, empathy, courage or host of qualities and characteristics that must be mastered to be successful in a complex professional endeavour such as modern-day legal practice.
2. Mentors need to be engaged and be genuinely interested in all the roundedness of a mentee.
It is important that mentors care about the mentee’s dreams, ambitions, and health, in the wider sense. Trained mentors are trained to detect when something is unsettling the mentee and are armed with tools and resources to help the mentee transition through to the other side of a problem, where hopefully, success awaits. These tools and resources usually have to be learned.
3. One must be available, and here I mean emotionally and psychologically available.
I mean honest, authentic and present. This may be the biggest challenge of all, since most senior lawyers didn’t have the benefit of such open and authentic tutelage themselves, and were either left to navigate the vagaries of professional life alone or experienced a benevolent but emotionally absent principal, and can therefore scarcely offer such high levels of availability to anyone else.
Advice to the Bar Association
The development of a strong and structured mentoring programme requires more than goodwill and desire. It necessitates the skills of a professional in its design and the training of suitable candidates as mentors. In addition, mentees require orientation, even training so that they are able to access the likely benefits of such a relationship, and do not misread it as an opportunity to relieve themselves of the responsibilities that they must bring. Finally, thought needs to be brought to bear on how this approach to up-skilling is to be paid for. It is the writer’s contention that leaving the process entirely to volunteerism is unlikely to yield the results we all want.
- To meet Lorna Phillips, Accredited Master Coach, practising commercial Attorney-at-Law and Managing Partner in the law firm Nicholson Phillips, see here
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