What is mentoring?
Mentoring is a professional relationship whereby a more experienced person (the mentor) provides advice and support to help a less experienced person (the mentee) develop in their chosen career. For our purposes, this means a barrister assisting a student in their journey to the Bar.
A mentor (ideally) coaches, supports and (if possible) helps facilitate the student in growing their skills and addressing the world they’re trying to get into. A mentee (ideally) gratefully receives this help and support, acts upon it and thereby derives a benefit.
Mentoring is not a one-way street – mentors get a lot of value out of it as well:
“I love working on outreach, mentoring and well-being and I think it helps me reflect on my own experiences as well. I have learnt a lot from the young lawyers I’ve mentored to pupillage over the years.” – Barrister, Call 2003
Why is having a mentor important?
Having a mentor can really boost your self-esteem when it comes to applying for pupillage. Your mentor (depending on their seniority and whether or not they have recently sat on their chambers’ pupillage committee) may also be up-to-date on what is expected and can provide some guidance on how to navigate the process. They may even be able to give you a mock interview.
How do you get a mentor?
The formal way
The Inns each have a mentoring scheme (mainly for BPTC students), and your university may also have a scheme.
Inner Temple mentoring scheme: https://www.innertemple.org.uk/education/bar-professional-training-course-bptc-students/student-schemes/
Middle Temple mentoring scheme: https://www.middletemple.org.uk/members/inn-initiatives-and-events/mentoring-scheme
Lincoln’s Inn mentoring scheme: https://www.lincolnsinn.org.uk/index.php/education/bptc-student-information/mentoring-scheme
Gray’s Inn mentoring scheme: https://www.graysinn.org.uk/education/student-members/mentoring-scheme
The informal way
You should go to as many legal events and/or networking drinks as you can. At these events, try to talk to as many barristers as possible and, if you find one you make a connection with, ask them for their help. You will usually find that barristers are open to helping those who ask!
Please note that just because you may not yet be ready to apply for pupillage does not mean that you don’t need or deserve a mentor!
Tips for mentees
How to get a mentor
Irrespective of the route you go down, the first thing you need to think about is what you want help with – this will be the first question you are likely to be asked by a prospective mentor (and you may be asked it in an application form).
What you want also has to be realistic – some mentors may have time to look at and offer comments on drafts of an application form (but they won’t look at one for their own chambers, so don’t ask them to do that!) but they may not have hours to look through several drafts. So if, perhaps, you just want some help with one type of question/section of the form, then say that. Be realistic.
How to interact with your mentor
Once you have got yourself a mentor (formally or informally), you need to think about how you will interact with them.
If they contact you first, respond promptly. If not, contact them with a short note – introduce yourself, explain what you’d like to get out of the relationship, and ask when they are free to meet. Remember that while your mentor is there to help you, you also need to put your best foot forward – be polite and respectful, listen to what your mentor tells you, try not to babble etc.
When you bring up a topic you want help with, make sure you first tell your mentor any steps you have taken or things you have already tried to solve the issue. This helps your mentor support you and it shows the mentor that you are willing to work hard – a must for any aspiring barrister.
Take on board any feedback you are given; even if not from your desired practice area, your mentor is likely to have a wealth of information and their critical appraisal of your application/performance may well help you improve. Accept when your mentor challenges you, because they are usually doing it to help you grow. They will be less inclined to help if you resist or ignore their advice, because they will feel as though they are wasting their time. Remember that your mentor won’t have the answer to every question and that they too are human.
From time to time, thank your mentor for their help. No one is required to be a mentor – they’re kindly volunteering their valuable time – so they will be keener to help if they can see that they are valued.
Finally, remember that this is a process, not something you “obtain”. To derive value from your mentoring relationship, you have to continually engage and develop your relationship with your mentor.
Tips for mentors
Firstly, make sure that you can dedicate time to your mentee and that your work/life pattern allows for this. The only thing worse than not having a mentor is having one that is unavailable! That isn’t fair and can do much to discourage someone from asking for help in the future or even pursuing a career at the Bar at all (depending on the stage of the mentee). Make clear from the outset (with the organisation you use and/or directly with your mentee) how much time you have available and any other constraints on your activities. Such things can include whether you are only in town a few days a week or if you have other commitments that mean that you can only meet your mentee at 8am in the morning etc.
Secondly, think about how much time, overall, you are willing to spend on this. Some schemes ensure that the mentoring relationship only lasts for a year; sometimes the relationship ends naturally; and for others, the relationship can continue for quite a while, so it’s worth knowing if you can commit to a mentee for a solid period of time.
Thirdly, please think about what you can offer. Not all mentors can help with pupillage applications, nor are they the reason why students want mentorship! At the start of their journey, students may only need general encouragement. However, for those further into the process, you may not be quite as much use if you are a commercial tenant advising a wannabe criminal barrister.
Fourthly, remember that it is the mentee who drives the process. Don’t be tempted to tell them what to do – focus instead on guiding them to the best answers/actions that will help them become successful. Try to get them to reflect on their experiences to help them ascertain what they have learned. Do feed back to your mentee not only on issues such as content but also on how they present themselves. Do challenge your mentee and do not sugar-coat things: mentees need to know the reality that they face if they are to succeed.
Finally, please remember that your mentee is a student who is still learning. This is an ideal time for them to make mistakes, learn to become professionals and to begin understanding the culture at the Bar. They will learn this quickest through positive discussions with you.
* Thank you to Giles Peaker, solicitor, for inspiring this page.