How mentoring can make you a better lawyer
What consumers want
Consumers want the best of everything. Consumers of legal services want the best of every aspect of everything. Such consumers want the best legal brains who have the ability to deliver detailed legal advice at short notice, be able to translate that complex information and to make it relevant to the issue at hand and then to (because that is not enough), they also need to work out the solution. Easy right?
For those trying to manage a legal team, they are constantly asking themselves the question: ‘how do you give the consumer what they want?’ Essentially, how do you recruit, train and manager such a lawyer?
Smart is easy to find. Recruitment managers are good at the milk rounds, at recruiting from the best schools and getting the smartest most driven individuals. Graduate CVs nowadays are mouth-watering; the A*s, the year prizes, the Duke of Edinburgh gold medals, and the athletic abilities. All point to driven and intelligent individuals.
Interpreting complex information and making it relevant is hard and working out the solution is really hard. That takes training – hands-on training and mentoring. It takes senior lawyers to mentor junior lawyers. To take them through their thought process and pass on years of insight and wisdom.
But as most in-house teams will tell you, that is still not enough. It is not enough to be mentored by another lawyer. The lawyers needs hands-on experience of running a business, to see what “risk” means, to be able to negotiate effectively and to advise commercial teams.
The benefits of mentoring
The way to do that is to run a business. When private practice lawyers move in-house they need time to become commercial and even then they need assistance. Managers and HR teams need to think outside the box to help their teams become and remain commercial. One great way of doing this is to team up with external mentoring groups. There are a couple that spring to mind: the Aspire Foundation ties mentors with mentees within non-profits within the UK and overseas and of course the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women (CBFW) – Mentoring Programme, which I am involved in. The CBFW’s mentoring programme ties up mentors from corporations such as Accenture, Bank of America, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and others with mentees who have revenue generating business in Asia and the Middle East.
However, whichever mentoring organisation you pick or whether you pick a few, there are many advantages to making your legal team become mentors.
1. Exposure to fresh perspectives, ideas and approaches
Mentoring helps them think outside their immediate area of expertise. Whether the mentoring is helping a non-profit entity in Africa or a catering business in Palestine, the hands-on help and the understanding of logistical issues within other areas of the world and within other sectors is great to assist lawyers become more commercially aware and also how to manage business expectations and risk. Essentially, it gives mentors exposure to fresh perspectives, ideas and approaches and helps them think outside the box.
2. Creating Better Customer Service
By choosing the right mentoring programme and implementing the right training scheme mentoring can help model desired behaviours, encourage the development of competencies, motivate for service quality, and above all to cultivate the right attitudes. This can help your legal team work towards providing a better customer service experience not just for the mentee but for your commercial team.
3. Leadership and educational support
Many mentoring programmes will provide a tailor made mentoring programme, whether the training programme is aimed at helping the mentor work more closely with its mentees, how to be good mentors or how to work with early stage businesses most well developed mentoring programmes involve on-going training and support for mentors as well as mentees.
Overall this will help your company’s leadership programme and it helps to bridge the gap between theory and practice.
4. Improving diversity
There are a number of mentoring programmes involved with assisting business owners from different backgrounds; different nationalities or races, different income levels and of course different gender. By receiving greater understanding into the issues facing mentees from diverse backgrounds therefore helps widen a mentors perspective of the world. This is great for diversity.
What is takes to be a good, effective mentor
Even though the above seems logical, many lawyers do not feel confident to be a mentor. They say that many companies do not want lawyers to assist, what do they know about a sari business in India or a school in Africa? What can they offer and of course when would they find the time. So for mentors, this is what I would say you need to be a good/effective mentor:
1. You have to be available.
It seems that you need a large amount of time and with a busy workload and life it seems impossible. We all have busy lives but if you take on the responsibility of being a mentor it is crucial that you make yourself available, I would say for approximately 30 minutes each week (max).
The structure of your communication of course depends on each mentoring relationship. But you should all have 30 minutes a week to spare and as mentioned the format or location of your conversation really does not matter.
You need to be diplomatic.
Imagine you have just started your business, you are passionate about your business and someone you highly respect comes and tell you that your business or your direction does not make sense. We all have different learning curves and for each of us the penny drops at different times.
A mentor needs to be encouraging, sensitive and most importantly diplomatic. You should not be crushing dreams – just directing them.
3. You need to have knowledge.
Not knowledge about their trade but in life and business life. I think it is a misunderstanding that you can only help your mentee with your particular specialism. Lawyers often question what business advice they can offer, but that is the whole point. Just because I am a solicitor does not mean I should be matched with someone who needs legal assistance. In fact, most of my mentees have never cared about my legal knowledge, they want to strategize about their brand, their market, access to finance, and how to get things done – research, analyse, solve. All assets of a lawyer, and most of all they need practical solutions.
Lawyers are smart, hard working, determined and great problem solvers. This is the wider experience lawyers have to offer mentees who need someone who can help them brainstorm, think through problems and come up with solutions.
4. You need a blend of creativity and adaptability, because as a mentor you need to be open to new ideas and think outside the box.
This does not mean you need to be able to create ideas – Steve Jobs did not expect his mentor to help with his next creation, but he would have expected his mentor to see his vision. This will widen your horizons. When we set up Halebury, we had no funding, no clients and no lawyers and we were taking on one of the most traditional professions on earth with the aim of fundamentally changing it, but it was our mentors that pushed us.
5. You need to be engaged.
It is important that mentors care about their mentees’ dreams and ambitions.
Of course it is not all about “what is in it for me”. There are social benefits. The idea of giving back and creating a greater sense of community which all leads to greater retention, loyalty but also general satisfaction.
From every angle – GCs should look into implementing an external mentoring programme for their legal team which could benefit not just the individual but the business as well with an influx of fresh ideas, an improvement in customer service, stronger leadership and a more diverse workplace.
Contact Janvi: 020 7127 2500