As a law student, you need all the help you can get. This means as much in terms of contacts and opportunities as it does for learning and growing. As part of our law school & careers features, this week Lawyer Monthly hears from Francine Ryan, lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice team at The Open University, on making the most out of a mentoring programme.
It is becoming increasingly common for UK Law Schools to offer external mentoring schemes to provide students with insights into professional practice and develop links with the legal profession. This may involve discussions on areas of legal practice, CV writing, interview skills, network building and wider issues impacting on the profession. As your career progresses there may be other opportunities for you to benefit from a mentoring programme.
What is mentoring?
Mentoring involves building a supportive learning relationship where an experienced mentor offers their expertise and knowledge to guide and develop a less experienced person, the mentee. Mentoring can provide support in a number of different ways depending on where you are in your career.
A mentoring relationship is a shared responsibility between the mentor and mentee, it requires regular contact and commitment to work. Here are some top tips to help you get the best out of a mentoring programme.
Ground rules will help you work together
Discuss your expectations of each other at the outset of your relationship. Agree practical arrangements such as the frequency and location of meetings but more fundamentally define what you can expect from you mentor and what you mentor can expect from you. This should avoid misunderstandings and will help set appropriate boundaries for the relationship.
Know what you want!
The focus of the mentoring is on you, the mentee, so it is important to be clear about what you want from the relationship, but also to be open and flexible to exploring new ideas and perhaps changing direction. A good mentor will challenge you, ask probing questions and encourage you to think carefully about what is it you want to do, to help you find your own solutions. This is a great opportunity to discuss areas of practice that interest you and to consider whether they are suited to your talents, interests and aspirations.
Set goals- have a purpose!
Successful mentoring relationships need purpose and direction. You need to work with your mentor to set goals which are meaningful, these should be both short and longer term. For example, you may agree that the development of your network as a key priority, your mentor may agree to facilitate an introduction to an event. A short term goal could be going to the event. A longer term goal could involve developing connections with key people at the event. You need to be clear how you will achieve your goals and take the initiative to ensure you accomplish them.
The majority of the time the relationship between you and your mentor will involve talking and listening. Listening is an active process, it is much more than just hearing what the other person is saying. Julian Treasure in his Ted Talk uses a helpful acronym, RASA, Receive, Appreciate, Summarise and Ask to facilitate active listening. Active listening takes practice and is a critical skill to develop not just for a successful mentoring relationship but in all aspects of your life.
Value what you have
If you are fortunate to have a mentor, who is willing to invest in your relationship, who is genuinely interested in you and wants to see you succeed, you are incredible lucky. You need to value that relationship, by ensuring you are responsible, respectful and ready. This means coming to meetings prepared, respecting your mentor’s time and remembering they are a volunteer. Acknowledging and appreciating their support is important, a simple thank you can go a long way in enhancing a relationship. You also need to be ready to take ownership and responsibility for you own learning- your mentor can’t do it for you!
As a law student this is a unique opportunity for you to engage with a legal practitioner on an individual basis, where you can gain from their professional expertise and experience. It should also motivate and encourage you by giving you the opportunity to think about your career path. A mentoring relationship involves hard work and commitment but can offer invaluable support in developing your career.