Your career co-pilot: why you should get a mentor
Planning your path after law school can be exciting, but it can also be scary. Having a mentor can be a great way to get support throughout your studies and career.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is a trusted advisor who guides you in your career and professional life.
Why is mentoring valuable?
Think of a mentor as your ‘career co-pilot’, someone who helps you navigate your professional life. Like Mr Miyagi and the karate kid. Or Yoda and Luke Skywalker. There’s nothing quite like having an experienced guide along the journey.
A mentor can help you explore career options, set goals, develop contacts and identify resources. They can also serve as a sounding board whenever you are faced with sticky situations.
Who should be my mentor?
The first step is to clarify what you want out of a mentoring relationship.
Keen to know more about a career in the courtroom? Seek out a barrister. Hoping to learn about the difference between various areas of practice? A general practitioner might be a good match. Looking for guidance on switching careers? Consider someone who’s made brave career changes over time.
It’s important that you share similar values with your mentor and that your personalities ‘click’. This might take some trial and error, so don’t worry too much if you have to meet a few people before you find the right fit.
Your mentor doesn’t necessarily need to be a lawyer, in fact many people choose to have more than one mentor. Different people provide different perspectives, and every mentor has something unique to offer.
Where do I find a mentor?
Many universities offer structured mentor programs where students are matched to members of their profession. Most of the state-based law societies (for example, the Law Society of Western Australia and the Law Society of New South Wales) offer similar programs, along with other organisations such as the Asian Australian Lawyers Association and the Association of Corporate Counsel.
There are also plenty of opportunities to meet potential mentors in less formal environments. You could consider reaching out to practitioners who are connected to family or friends and ask for a coffee. Or join your local law society to attend their networking events, many of which cater to law students and graduates.
Your Practical Legal Training (PLT) course is also a great place to meet potential mentors. PLT providers such as Leo Cussen Centre for Law assign students a mentor and regularly bring in lawyers and barristers to connect with students.
There are plenty of practitioners willing to give their time to guide the next generation of legal professionals. Be bold and don’t be afraid to ask.
What are some specific benefits of getting a mentor?
Insight into life as a legal professional
While you’re at law school, it can be hard to get a realistic picture of life in the legal profession. A mentor can provide insight into what their day-to-day life looks like in legal practice. They might even offer opportunities to shadow them at work.
Exploring options & devising career plans
The legal profession has undergone significant change in recent years, with more varied career options than ever. A mentor can be a valuable source of advice about your post-university pathways and may be able to assist with mapping out goals and plans. Don’t be afraid to ask your mentor what they learned from their own career journey.
Job search guidance
The chances are your mentor has been through their own stressful job searches and can give you the benefit of their experience. Apart from moral support, your mentor might also help with reviewing your CV or providing insight into whether a certain role is the right stepping-stone for your career goals.
Access to networks and contacts
As a student, you may feel that your contacts in the legal space are limited. Many mentors are well-connected and able to introduce you to others in the profession to help expand your network. Your mentor might also have contacts who are looking to hire.
Guidance through ‘sticky’ issues
Throughout your studies and career, you will almost certainly be faced with ethical dilemmas and challenging situations. During those times, it is vital to have a trusted and experienced advisor who can give you honest, independent and confidential guidance.
Support and confidence
You can feel empowered to make decisions with confidence knowing there’s someone to support you through your professional journey.
Regular career checkpoints
It’s easy to get stuck on autopilot and forget to check-in on your career trajectory and long-term goals. Regular meetings with a mentor can ensure you give your career goals a health check and keep an eye on the bigger picture.
How do I get the most out of a mentor?
Here are some tips to help you get the most out of mentoring:
Don’t wait for your mentor to set up each meeting. It’s up to you to take ownership of the process and drive the relationship.
While mentors may be happy to give their time, they are also very busy. Be mindful of their schedule and be sure to show the appropriate level of respect and appreciation. Always be punctual, professional and polite.
Plan & prepare
When organising a meeting, be sure to give your mentor plenty of notice. When you meet up, come prepared with relevant questions and topics to discuss.
Try to accommodate your mentor’s schedule as best you can. It’s also important to get a feel for your mentor’s way of doing things. Do they want to meet in a formal office setting, or would they prefer a more relaxed chat over a coffee? Do they like to meet in professional attire, or is it more appropriate to wear something casual?
Be open to feedback (good and bad)
Remember that a key element of mentoring is receiving feedback to make improvements. Some truths might be hard to hear, but it’s important to be open to constructive criticism and take suggestions on board.
Keep in touch between meetings
When you’re not meeting your mentor, make sure you keep the lines of communication open. Secured a job interview with their help? Let them know. Saw a recent article you thought might interest them? Send it through. It’s important to stay in touch.
Focus on the long-term
Successful mentor relationships are built over time. It is not transactional or one-off and it can take time to develop trust and rapport. Focus on building a long-term relationship and don’t rush it. Mentors aren’t just for juniors; a strong mentor relationship can often prove beneficial well into the later years of your career.
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Think of a mentor as your ‘career co-pilot’, someone who helps you navigate your professional life. Like Mr Miyagi and the karate kid. Or Yoda and Luke Skywalker. There’s nothing quite like having an experienced guide along the journey.Leo Cussen Centre for Law
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