Olivia Parker, Careers Development Officer in our education, training and qualifications team, explains all about our new student:trainee mentoring scheme.
You may have heard already that the Law Society has been running a successful career mentoring scheme for the last few years.
We receive a lot of interest from law students, which is great. However what they’re often looking for isn’t so much a helping hand with ongoing career development; it’s rather specifically the launch phase of their legal careers. This focused goal necessitates a specific kind of mentor.
Which got us thinking… who would be well placed to help law students navigate the early stages of employment? Perhaps someone who’s familiar with the process, maybe even been through it themselves recently? Maybe someone exactly like a trainee solicitor.
I love it when a plan comes together!
As a project in its infancy we wanted to keep numbers small and the proximity close, so we launched a pilot scheme in Edinburgh with the aim of matching 16 pairs of mentors and mentees.
In April 2017 we opened applications for both prospective student mentees and trainee solicitor mentors and we were pleased to find we had a really positive response from both trainees and students, filling all of the spaces up for grabs.
In May, a mandatory induction took place for the trainees so they would feel confident taking on a mentoring relationship; understanding the role of the mentor, how to set boundaries and how to offer support by asking the right questions and offering guidance. The mentees also had an induction to ensure they fully understood the principles of mentoring and what to expect from the relationship. In fact, a lot of what we covered was expectation management for both sides.
It’s essential for everyone involved to understand that mentors are not there to find traineeships for mentees. Rather, they’re there to support them through the tough time that can be securing employment and entering into the new environment of the legal workplace. Mentoring is about giving people the tools to help themselves, by listening, questioning and guiding.
How we match mentor:mentee pairs
Whilst this is a career mentoring programme, a commonality in the specialist area of law that students are interested in, and trainees are working in, is actually of secondary importance when taking other facts into account. We find that personality, personal experiences and empathy all play a larger part. Mentoring is much more about supporting the person as a whole, which was certainly reflected in the applications from student mentees.
A student mentee typical profile
In short, there is no ‘typical applicant’; however there were certain commonalities that ran through the applications. A lack of confidence in their abilities to navigate the traineeship recruitment process was a common characteristic, which may have stemmed from a series of knock-backs in their efforts so far. Others frequently cited a concern that they didn’t feel they could showcase the skills employers are looking for and a worry that they didn’t know how to jump through hoops in application forms and assessment centres employers often look for. A lot of people didn’t know how to identify and show off what makes them interesting, to stand out as a unique candidate.
Introducing our trainee mentors
Our trainee mentors (and existing career mentors!) are all fantastic because they’re all passionate about giving back and helping others to get the best possible start to their legal journey. Acting as a mentor can also help them to start building their leadership skills for the future.
We’re now almost a quarter of the way into the year-long pilot, so I will soon be asking for update reviews from our participants (done in a quarterly performance review style that will be familiar to trainees and a good routine to settle into for students).
I’ll be constantly reviewing progress throughout the year, then once the year’s up, doing an assessment of the feasibility of rolling this out across Scotland. We aim to be able to work with all of our LLB students wherever they are: Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling. There’s clearly an appetite for the scheme and we want to make sure we can serve all of our future members as best we can.