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A great mentor is like a 7 in one multicooker – they can act as a career advisor, study assistant, networking coach, opportunity creator, proof reader and confidant. Mentors are an essential part of the professional journey. Given the current climate of the legal profession having a surplus of lawyers than there are jobs, building a solid network is extremely important in the law world. A mentor can help you in a plethora of ways and can save you a serious amount of time and energy to give you that competitive edge.
Where can I get a mentor?
There are a number of ways you can organise a mentor. Your university’s Law Student Society is sure to have a mentoring program with senior year students in your course. If you are lucky (good on you Melbourne and Sydney Law Schools) your university may pair you with an industry mentor. Further, your state regulatory body (for example, in Victoria it is the Legal Institute of Victoria (LIV)) may have a program that pairs you with someone already working in the industry. Out for Australia also have a professional mentoring program for LGBTIQ identifying students. Note that these opportunities may have an application deadline – for example, the LIV only runs a program once a year and you must apply at the commencement of each calendar year.
You can also speak to people in your personal network to see if they know anyone in the law. You would be surprised who people know, your best friend’s aunty may be that law mentor you are looking for! Be bold and ask around – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
So now I have a mentor, what am I supposed to do?
The mentoring relationship is unique and for that reason many people are confused about what the rules are. Think of your mentor as a trusted advisor – someone you can be real with and gain insight from. But remember, it is a professional relationship. If you were a mentor, would you recommend a mentee you did not see potential in or thought they were a blubbering mess? Probably not. This is why it is integral to make sure you keep professional and ensure you do not confuse the role of a mentor with a counsellor.
Additionally, make sure you remember that your mentor is busy and giving you the benefit of their time – you must drive the relationship and make meetings and do the appropriate follow up.
What should I do on the first meeting?
As a first point of call, this author suggests sending your newfound mentor your CV and a summary of your background, so that they can quickly and easily get an understanding of you. Every good mentoring relationship should have defined goals, so in addition make some short term goals – one month, three months, six months and a year which you can work on and track together. Type it up, send it to your mentor and discuss it when you meet.
In terms of a first meeting place and time, let the mentor set the location so you get a sense of what they prefer – they may be a daytime coffee person or a night time wine bar type. This is the safe option and you can suggest the next location once you have scoped them out. Even offer to pay, and if they pay, offer to pay next time. After the meeting, make sure you thank your mentor through email or text for their time and valuable insights.
What should I do between meetings?
If a mentor has helped you out by setting up a meeting or proofing a job application, keep them updated on your progress. Mentors love nothing more than hearing about your journey, so keep them in the loop and thank them for their assistance in the process. See a professional industry article that would interest your mentor? Send it. Know your mentor is going on holiday to Japan at the end of the year? Send an article on ‘Must eats Tokyo’ that pops up in your feed. Listen to a great podcast or inspirational TED talk? Shoot it through. In this way, you can create value for your mentor and make the relationship a two-way street.
Now I have a mentor, what next?
A mentor is all about trying to assist you with opportunities. Is you mentor a barrister? Ask if you can sit on a court day. Does your mentor work at a Community Legal Centre? Ask if there are any volunteering opportunities. Does your mentor work at a law firm? Ask if there are any paralegal roles. Again, you have to drive the relationship with your mentor. Professionals are very busy and although they have your interests at heart, they have a million other competing interests swirling in their head. By being direct about what you are looking for creates a win-win situation that is easy for you and your mentor to achieve. Remember, at the end of the day, the worst they can say is no!
This writer has had mentors look over their CV, cover letter, applications and even assignments – again, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. But, it is advised that you approach with caution and (1) ensure that you ask whether your mentor would be open to it and (2) give them plenty of turnaround time.
What should I do if my mentor organises an opportunity for me?
A mentor’s network is valuable and most share it with caution. If your mentor has set you up to meet with someone in their network, it means that they trust you to set a good example as both your reputations are on the line. As a result, smash the basics out of the park – arrive early, dress well, turn your phone on silent and come prepared. Send a follow up to both your mentor and the person you met with a thank you email or text. If you meet these basics, it increases the chances that your mentor will connect you with others in their network.
What if I don’t click with my mentor?
First, I would suggest giving it at least two to three meetings to establish whether you and your mentor are a good match. Sometimes people have bad days or take time to come out of their shell, so give your mentor a chance. Second, if you don’t think you’ll click, ask your mentor whether there is anyone in their network that they could connect you with. This way you create a win for both you and your mentor – they have helped you and you have gained another potential mentor. If you are in a defined program, you can contact the program coordinators and express your concerns about the match. They are very used to this situation and may be able to re-match you.
Does the mentoring relationship end?
Every mentor should serve a different purpose. As such, most have defined goals and a time frame. Discuss this with your mentor and work it into your goal timeline. This does not mean that you can’t keep in touch with your mentor after your agreed time period – you definitely should. A good way to do this is by adding them on LinkedIn and instigating a coffee catch up every now and then. Rather, every relationship has a natural cycle and mentorship should have a defined purpose with an attached time period.
Being a mentee is a very rewarding and educational experience. Drive the relationship, have fun and pass on the good vibes by being a mentor in the future. Happy mentoring!
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