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Pay it Forward

09 December 2022

Picture the scene. It is summer 2015. I am 20 years old, and due to commence my final year of studying for the LL.B. in one months' time. I have not secured a training contract despite submitting a plethora of applications, in fact, I have not even been offered an interview. I am becoming increasingly aware of my dearth of legal contacts. In an attempt to rectify this situation, I decide to join the Scottish Young Lawyers' Association (SYLA) as a member, and attend a networking event that it has organised. 

I remember getting ready for the event in my student flat - picking out the one suit I owned; the nervous walk along Bath Street in Glasgow; checking in at reception and finally, entering the room. Crowds of delegates who appeared so familiar to one another were huddled in small, seemingly impenetrable groups. Wracked with what is now commonly known as imposter-syndrome, I left the event after 25 minutes, having said very little, convinced that I would never be engaging or clever enough to make it through a full networking session.  

It is now October 2022. I am 27 years old, and as of September have been practising as a fully qualified solicitor for 2 years. I am a commercial litigator at DWF, and am now the Vice President of the aforementioned SYLA, having served on the Committee for the previous 3 years.  

So how does one progress from hiding in the bathroom at networking events, to relishing them? How did I move from the infamous traineeship-hunt, to where I am now? What happened along the way?  

Mentors happened. Accidental mentors in the form of friends and family. More formal mentors in the form of colleagues and superiors who empowered me to unlock potential that I never knew existed. Those who took the time, not to provide all of the answers, but to create an environment in which I could discover those answers for myself. These mentors challenged me to reassess situations, set-backs and fears in line with my ambitions and achievements. They did not personally bring my confidence to life, but more powerfully, allowed that confidence in my capabilities to grow from within.  

The benefits of mentoring are endless, not only for the mentee, but for the companies and organisations for which they work. An example of a simple but effective tiered mentoring scheme is run by DWF. By pairing individual trainee solicitors with those who are newly qualified, new-joiners have regular but formal access to those who have recently lived the trainee experience. Trainees and mentors set their respective expectations and boundaries for the sessions, for example, how often they will meet, and what development needs will be targeted and addressed before the next session is convened. 

The evidence speaks for itself. Mentored-trainees develop a 'can-do' attitude, flowing from their mentor's candour about the challenges they too had to overcome. Role models begin to emerge, and appear more accessible. Confidence grows as development needs are met, and with each session, new targets are unlocked. A business can only benefit from putting such measures in place. 
Mentorship is also a two-way-street, with new mentors often surprised at how much they learn from their mentees. I can confidently assert that adopting various mentoring positions (both formal and informal) has transformed me into a more considered and supportive supervisor. To my mind, mentorship of a firm or organisation's junior cohort also spawns the next generation of mentors; whom, having been in receipt of mentoring themselves, now want to pay it forward. Countless of my mentees, having now accessed the legal profession, are volunteering under similar schemes as mentors. This promotes a positive culture within the legal sphere, and ensures that the next generation is even more supported than the last. 

Cast your mind back to the start of your own legal journey. Did you navigate this new terrain completely alone? I suspect that the answer to this question is no. It cannot be disputed that mentoring has an important role to play in promoting social mobility. The Social Mobility Foundation's mentoring scheme is demonstrable of that fact. SMF students (of both school-age and university level) are high achieving young people from low income backgrounds. They are paired with mentors from their chosen profession, who assist them through the likes of applying to college/university, or preparing for job interviews. Through mentorship, this extremely worthwhile programme seeks to eradicate inequality of opportunity, and to allow aspiring professionals not only to realise, but to reach, their full potential.  

It is likely that you are already a mentor of sorts. Have you already scaled part of the metaphorical ladder and shared some tales of your ascent for the benefit of another? If so, accidental mentor, have you considered placing your mentoring capabilities on a more formal footing? Much like the benefits of mentoring, opportunities to mentor are now somewhat unlimited.   

They say to "surround yourself with people who would mention your name in a room full of opportunities". I say, let's be those people, and open up opportunities for those climbing up the ladder behind us.  

Links to Mentoring Opportunities:  

To access insightful content and hear about our events and other initiatives, sign up to DWF's early careers network, Link here

Written by Patricia Taylor

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