If my experience in the first three months of practising law has taught me anything, finding mentors who you can trust will get you through it! I am lucky, I have many mentors. I share an office with two experienced counsel. I have developed mentoring relationships with both of them. As we got to know each other, I realized that they genuinely wanted to answer my questions and point me in the right direction.
One of the two walked me though costs submissions on a Friday afternoon and then gave me his cell phone number in case I had any last minute questions after he left the office.
The other practices in the same areas as I do. She watches over me and checks in. I share both my successes and my mistakes. She has invited me to shadow her on several occasions. My advice? Take those opportunities! You will meet opposing counsel, other lawyers around the courthouse, courthouse staff, and judges. Soon they will become familiar with you.
As a brand new lawyer you can find time to shadow experienced counsel. It is not hard to ask. Debrief what you witnessed with them and they will soon become your mentor. Try to ask questions that are well thought out.
I have learned to save the silly questions for junior lawyers. They can be your mentors, too! You would be surprised what your law school buddies have learned in the time that they have been practising law. My law school friends and law partner have offered me endless support and I have done my best to reciprocate.
The last thing I want to say is thank your mentors profusely. Sometimes an email will suffice but if I feel like someone really went out of their way I send a handwritten card.
by Ceilidh Henderson, Advocacy Club Member
Ceilidh practices Family law, Child Protection law, and Refugee law, in partnership with Altynay Teshebaeva. Email: email@example.com.
Articling students face a daunting task as we navigate our entry into the legal profession. We are confronted with long hours, a steep learning curve, high expectations. Where can we turn for guidance?
What Does a Mentor Offer?
Mentors can bring a sense of normalcy to an otherwise crazy 10 month odyssey. They have experience and knowledge. They have experienced precisely what we are going through. This is an invaluable opportunity for us as we morph from lowly law grads to become respected Bar members. Caterpillars to butterflies.
What is most shocking about articling is how little law school prepares us to practice law. The law is just so esoteric for newcomers. Mentors often perform double duty – they counsel mentees on career development while also acting as a sounding board on “how to be a lawyer”.
I had experience with mentorship in my professional life before law school. The importance of having a good legal mentor cannot be overstated. With most large employers, mentorship sessions focus solely on career development goals. Pre-ordained “checkbox” questions are distributed from the executive suite at head office and then down through the ranks. This results in uninspiring mentorship sessions. These feel as though they occurred simply because they had to.
On the other hand, mentorship sessions with lawyers provide the chance to discuss the challenges we face with veterans who have walked in our shoes. They know a thing or two about navigating the complex practice of our profession.
Mentorship takes on a greater meaning in the early stages of our legal careers. We face many professional pitfalls as articling students and junior associates. Being able to discuss our experiences with our mentors can enrich our journey. Sharing our mentors’ experiences, successes, failures, and career aspirations is mutually beneficial and makes for lively exchanges. Have you noticed how lawyers love to share their experiences? War stories are a major part of our professional culture.
Here is my advice to articling students in the future. Benefit from your mentor’s hindsight. Let your mentor benefit from your emerging views on the profession. You’ll both be better for it.
by Neil Kennedy, Advocacy Club Member
[Note: since posting this, in 2017 Neil has left the preactice of law to join the Canadian Forces, infantry. We wish him well and thank him for his service to our country.]
Lots of firms pay lip service to their mentorship programs – a flashy way to entice prospective hires. But in reality there is no substance. I was fortunate enough to article at a firm that actually valued and encouraged mentorship. I suspect this had much to do with exactly who was in charge of my firm’s mentoring program.
I was one of two articling students, a female Anglophone along with a male Francophone. I remember being told that there had been a debate at the firm before we started our articles. Would they pair me with a male Anglophone associate or a female Francophone associate (and vice versa for my counterpart)? Meaning, should we be paired based on language or gender? And would it matter?
Well, language won out. As for whether it mattered, I can only give my impression and am not sure what my counterpart’s conclusion was. I came away feeling that the mentorship was a success, as I was comparing it to the experience that my peers did not have at other firms.
I had a designated person who I could readily go to for advice on files and on career prospects without feeling intimidated. Or that I was being an annoyance. We would also chat about life over beer in the office – which was great.
Maybe the better assessment, though, would have been to compare it to what it could have been. On the plus side, women now make up over half of law school students. There are many female judges. Our federal and provincial justice ministers are women and, famously, half the federal cabinet ministers are women.
Even so, there are challenges unique to being a female member of our profession. Consider just these two questions:
It has since been my experience that when senior female lawyers want to proffer advice to a new-ish female lawyer, it is always on the subject of work-life balance and managing the demands of being a mother and a litigator. The message is always positive: both roles are rewarding and we can find ways to make it work.
The takeaway here, at least from my perspective, is that the question of gender vs. language did matter. Gender should have won out.
by Natalie Scott, Advocacy Club Member
You can get in touch with the author at Natalie@mcnallygervan.ca or on LinkedIn, https://ca.linkedin.com/in/natalie-scott-bb230058
I recently accepted the position of Legal Officer with the Office of the Judge Advocate General. Just now I am packing my bag to start my Basic Military Officer Qualification course in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Québec, for fifteen weeks. In this transition, I think about how I got here. I am most grateful to my mentors, who helped me throughout my application process. Here are the lessons I learned, framed as tips for mentees.
I moved to Ottawa in 2011 to commence my articles. Since then, I have had the good fortune to cross paths with several members of the Ottawa Bar with whom I established mentee/mentor relationships. They have played an integral role in my development as a junior lawyer. Based on my experience, it is essential:
Much like a personal relationship, there should be a natural chemistry between mentee and mentor. It should be evident that the mentor has a genuine interest in guiding the mentee. If that is not the case, accept the relationship for what it is, and move on. Do not force something that does not exist naturally.
As junior lawyers, there are many challenging situations thrown our way every day such as:
That said and depending on the issue, it may be essential to have more than one mentor. For example, if you have established a mentee-mentor relationship at your place of employment, it would be imprudent to discuss your desire to join the military with them over lunch. Consequently, having mentors both inside and outside the place of employment is essential. From my experience, the Advocacy Club is an excellent resource to find a mentor.
To conclude, I lived in the world of private practice. There the billable hour reigns. Try to remember that the time your mentor is giving you is cutting into their billable and personal time. Therefore, make sure you let your mentor know that you appreciate their time.
by Lt. (N) Charlotte Porter, Advocacy Club Member
The mentoring relationship is one that works both ways. It is not only the mentor who ensures that the relationship works well. The mentee has to do some of the heavy lifting, too.
Choose the Right Mentor
Choosing the right mentor is like finding the right employer. Your “interview” of the mentor may go on for some time, without the mentor even knowing it. Choose someone:
If a mentor is assigned by the firm, consider whether the relationship works. If it doesn’t, then both mentor and mentee must be content to end the relationship knowing that it is not personal; it is just not the right “fit.”
This does not mean you should prepare for the mentoring session like you would prepare to meet a client or a witness. You should be prepared to discuss any issues that are coming up in your professional life or your personal life so that you can raise them with your mentor. What is going on with you that needs discussion or guidance?
Appreciate the Relationship
First, know that there is a time commitment for both the mentor and the mentee. Be sure to take the time for meetings with your mentor but understand that you cannot monopolize your mentor’s time.
Second, listen to and appreciate the advice, but know that it is just that: advice. You have to make your own way and do things your way. What one person says for you may not work with you or your personality. Take the advice into account when considering your own situation.
We have chosen a profession where we evolve from law student, to articling student, to lawyer. As a lawyer, many of us evolve from junior associate, to senior associate, to junior partner, to senior partner. Many of us evolve in solo practice or in a start-up firm of junior lawyers. Quite simply, the evolution of our careers carries stress and difficulties at every stage. Mentoring can alleviate that stress with advice from someone who has “been there and done that.”
Andrew Ferguson, partner at MBC Law Professional
Welcome to the Advocacy Club's guest blog. Here you will find mentoring tips and techniques from some of John Hollander's students and associates.