A Mentor is defined as “an experienced and trusted advisor”. Therefore, simply put, mentoring is the passing on of information, experience and know-how from one person to another.
There are many methods of mentoring. It may take the form of a casual, informal relationship with little structure or expectation, on a one-time only or ad-hoc basis.
Mentoring activity can be face-to-face, by phone or internet. While an initial meeting in person is desirable and may set the tone for the relationship, continued effective contact can be quick and easy by phone or email. Long-distance telementoring can work quite well and provide additional opportunities for contact between people not in close proximity. This will facilitate optimal matching of skills, interests, experience and background of participants, which wouldn’t have been possible with exclusive face to face contact.
The WLAO is a professional organization geared toward addressing the needs of women lawyers in the profession. Networking and support is what we do, and we have a track record dating back to 1919. As such, we believe that our program will provide a different and unique kind of mentorship experience to interested members.
There are many positive aspects specific to woman to woman mentoring. While the relationship will exist to help less experienced members benefit from the professional experience of those women who practise law in their area of interest, there is much to be said for receiving such substantive advice from the female perspective, and in the context of another woman’s personal experience in the workplace. For example, advice on how to practise most effectively and plan for one’s professional advancement in a male dominated work environment.
Mentoring relationships amongst women result in an increased chance that participants will find a counterpart with a shared value system and leadership style. Because there are less likely to be gender related culture differences, experiential differences or power imbalances in the Mentor/Protégée relationship, participants are likely to find communication easier and their thought processes will be similar. This will assist them to more quickly find common ground on which to base a strong mentoring relationship.
Many examples come to mind in which women could likely provide valuable advice to one another more readily than a male counterpart. Perhaps a Mentor has already dealt successfully with child or elder care issues and their impact on her ability to balance home and work life. Perhaps sexual stereotypes are a problem and a Mentor has faced this issue earlier in her career and can offer workable options or solutions. Female thought processes can be very different from the male perspective. The soft skills important to us as women may not be the same as those valued by men. Such skills are essential to professional success and there is much to be gained in passing them on.
The Lawyers Professional Indemnity Company believes that mentoring speeds up the learning process and provides critical skills that can help prevent mistakes and reduce claims. Therefore, in recognition of the importance and desirability of mentoring, it will waive any deductive and claims history levy surcharge for a claim made against a Mentor and arising out of a mentoring relationship provided that:
- A formal mentoring relationship was entered into by the Mentor and Protégée, as evidenced by a written document;
- The Mentor had no relationship with the Protégée’s client that would have created a solicitor/client relationship; and
- The Protégée understood his or her responsibility for independently satisfying him or her self of the soundness of any suggestions, recommendations or advice-like comments made by the Mentor.
Mentors are often concerned that mentoring will take up too much of their time. This assumption is often not born out in reality. Time expectations can be discussed and many interactions can be brief and not in person. It is important for both parties to have a common understanding that the relationship will be governed by effective time management guidelines.
What if you are paired with someone with whom you have nothing in common and the fit is just not right? WLAO feels personal fit is very important to the success of the Mentoring Program. As a supportive, networking organization with a mission to assist and encourage the personal and professional success of our members, we will make sure we know or get to know candidates well enough to make an informed, individual match between Mentor and Protégée. Mentoring relationships will initially be on a trial basis to ensure we got it right. If the match is working well, participants may wish to continue or extend the relationship.
Certainly those with a great deal of experience make good Mentors and can impart a wealth of acquired wisdom earned through a long and successful career. We encourage all of you to step forward! However, those with less experience (5+ years) can also be very effective Mentors who are closer in time to the experiences and needs of a lawyer just starting out. Everyone has a set of circumstances and experiences that would be useful to someone. Perhaps you are from the same small town, went to the same university or law school, or have the same professional or extra-curricular interests as your Protégée.
Tips for Mentors:
- Take mental inventory of your skills and experiences.
- Assess the Protégée’s needs and goals.
- Be clear on what you are prepared to offer i.e. time, type of advice etc.
- Be prepared to withdraw early if necessary i.e. you cannot help the Protégée attain her goals.
Anyone who would benefit from the experience of a more senior lawyer should consider becoming a Protégée. Someone who is a Mentor to a more junior lawyer may also want to be a Protégée to a more senior lawyer. The opportunities for learning and networking are not limited to a certain age group, year of call or practise area.
Anyone considering becoming a Protégée should evaluate their career plan in the context of their interests and personality. Set specific goals and realistic time frames for achieving them. Personal satisfaction and the systematic achievement of one’s goals will lead to a happy and successful career. Tips for Protégées:
- Determine a career plan; map your future.
- Identify your goals and set a realistic timetable for achieving them.
- Assess your strengths and weaknesses.
- Increase skills where necessary; consider CLE, workshops, volunteer work, etc.
- What are your interests, likes and dislikes?
- Discuss your plan with your Mentor.
- Be clear and honest about what you expect to achieve in the context of the mentoring relationship.
- Review your plan periodically and adjust as required.
- Execute your plan.
- Evaluate progress with your Mentor.
Setting the ground rules: What is expected?
- Set goals for the relationship: What does the Protégée hope to gain out of the relationship? What kind of skills or experience does the Protégée hope to acquire?
- Personal style and fit: Do you “click”? Do you have common interests or background? Do you enjoy the company of your Mentor/Protégée?
- Determine time commitments and set limits: Both parties must respect these; answer phone calls or messages within a reasonable period of time, schedule meetings in advance, etc. Be conscious of efficient time management. This will assist both participants to observe the terms agreed upon.
Understanding, agreement and commitment are an essential part to a successful mentoring relationship. Convert the ground rules into an agreement by which the relationship will be governed. The “Simple Mentoring Agreement” contains a release and hold harmless clause and an acknowledgement of the guidelines required by the Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company to allow a Mentor to avoid a deductible and claims levy surcharge in the event of a claim arising from the relationship.
Appropriate subject matter includes, but is not limited to:
- Ethical dilemmas/moral issues
- How to handle a difficult client/opposing counsel
Inappropriate subject matter may include, but is not limited to:
- Direct involvement in dispute resolution
- Lending money/discussing financial matters
- Any communication involving a breach of solicitor/client confidentiality
Positive Feedback: provision and response
Feedback should be constructive, timely, honest and provided with the intent to nurture the Protégé’s growth and confidence in an affirming and positive environment. It is important to the success of the relationship that the Protégée accept the feedback given with a positive, rather than a defensive, attitude. Communication must be open, unambiguous and non-threatening.
How long should the relationship continue?
As long as it is productive and desired by both parties.
Remember that mentoring relationships are not meant to be used as a crutch but rather as a spring board.
Assess/Review the Relationship
It is important to evaluate the progress of the relationship to ensure the original goals set out are being attained. This helps to focus, improve and advance the mentoring process.
It may be most appropriate for the Protégée to lead this exercise since she is the primary beneficiary in the relationship. Review can be formal and/or informal. A formal review is especially helpful at the end of the mentoring relationship to determine the successes and challenges as well as to refine/improve the process for subsequent mentoring relationships that the parties may enter into in the future. Protégées should consider going on to become Mentors on the strength of the experience and lessons learned.
WLAO will prepare an evaluation questionnaire to help direct the evaluation process. Submission of these questionnaires to the WLAO will also assist us to make improvements in our Mentoring Program going forward.
Mentorship Committee Members
Join our committee!
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Eighth Edition, p. 742 Managing a Mentoring Relationship, Lawyers Professional Indemnity Company, p. 20 Disclaimer WLAO is pleased to facilitate mentoring relationships between its members but assumes no liability for any damages arising out of such relationships, which is a matter of responsibility solely between the parties. We encourage members to define the scope of their relationship and to enter into a simple mentoring contract such as the one posted at Mentoring Agreement.