How can you make the most of your mentoring opportunities? Six top tips from law student, Oli Carey

Continuing our ‘Mentoring Month’ promotion this October, we caught up with one of our current law students and Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholar for 2019, Oli Carey. Oli outlines his six tips to ensure you get the most from your mentoring relationships.

Mentorship as an aspiring barrister or solicitor is an invaluable opportunity, but as a student it is understandably daunting at first.

The best thing you can do as a mentee and student is be as prepared as possible – after all, being a mentee is more than likely new to you. 

After being selected as 1 of 13 Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholars for 2019, I was lucky enough to be paired with a bench of different mentors. I’ve spent the last year learning from each of their personal experiences and strengths through their unique experience and advice. This was my first experience of professional mentorship so it’s safe to say I’ve come a long way since then. 

The following are 6 tips for students to keep in mind at all stages of mentoring. Quotes from one of my mentors, an enforcement and regulatory lawyer for the Bank of Englandare included in italics (these views are personal and do not reflect the views of the Bank).

1. Making first contact

There are many concerns that may run through your mind before contacting a mentor for the first time. What if you have nothing to say? What if they find you unimpressive? What if you don’t get along? These are all fair concerns – all of which can be avoided if planned for. 

Face-to-face meetings are always a great way to start things off, but (given the current circumstances) this is unlikely to be an option. Youre left with a phone call or an email. Lead with an email making it clear that you would like to schedule a phone call. Your goal is to get to know each other – this will be significantly easier over the phone. 

Start off with simple questions that will get the mentor talking about themselves – what their first job was, whether they always planned to work in this field, how they chose it, how they approached essays, exams etc.” 

Be prepared to talk about yourself. It is important that they understand you and your goals. Let them know what your thoughts are regarding your career and in what areas you think they might be able to help. 

2. Agree on expectations

Things are going to be made a lot easier, on both sides, if there is agreement on expectations. This can be as basic as how often and by what means you are going to communicate. A suggestion that worked well for me was to have a call every 2/3 weeks – often enough to be able to ask pressing questions but not so often as to be a nuisance. 

As far as your expectations for the relationship, don’t expect that you are going to click immediately. In fact, you might never really click with your mentor. You should be expecting something between professional and friendly. As long as you are gaining something positive then you are on the right track. 

“I still got a lot out of being mentored by a former Court of Appeal judge, even if I was terrified the whole time!” 

3. Respect their time

A professional mentor in any sector is likely to be extremely busy. The onus is going to be on you to fit mentorship around this. 

Always take the lead on scheduling calls and be as flexible as you can. Remember that saying “any time” is not helpful – give specific dates that are going to work for you and then times you can’t do on those dates, as this will help the quick matching of schedules. Be clear that you are available early in the morning and late at night (this might be the only time available for some people). 

Expect them to have a very active inbox – don’t be offended if one of your emails is missed. If you haven’t received a reply after a week, send another email to draw their attention to the first. Good advice here is to remain cheerful and acknowledge that they must be very busy. It is very unlikely that your mentor is intentionally ignoring you. If you are unsure whether to follow up with another email do speak to the mentoring scheme organisers.  

4. Ask insightful questions

Make the most of your mentor’s experience and ask questions that really matter to you. Asking great questions will require some self-reflection and preparation. What are some current issues that matter to you? Does your mentor have some experiences that you think you could learn from? How has your mentor built a skillset that you admire? The more time you put into preparing questions the more productive your conversations are going to be.  

Start off with practical questions like asking for feedback on your CV, job applications or essay topics… realise that mentors can be nervous too. They might not feel very confident about what they can offer the mentee, so focusing on something practical can help them unlock that. Imposter syndrome is a problem even for people who are very successful!” 

Another idea is to create the expectation that you will send a topic or question to your mentor some days in advance of a scheduled meeting. This both gives them time to prepare and gets you into the routine of preparing more thoroughly. 

5. Making the most of their time

Not only is your mentor likely to be busy, but they will also be more senior, knowledgeable, and experienced than you. Respect the fact that the time they take out of their day is a significant commitment. Show respect in being open to their feedback. Don’t be an energy drain for your mentor – take on feedback and show that you are implementing it where possible. 

Remember this is a two-way relationship and you should be looking to give something back to your mentor. Your mentor will appreciate your genuine interest in what they have to say. 

Dialogue can be a space for the mentor to reflect not just on their own journey, but to practise listening and really challenge themselves to learn about the experiences – positive or negative – the mentee is having.” 

6. Keep things on track

It can be easy to let things slip as a mentee. You might get really busy with uni or work and not make any time to speak with your mentor. You might not have prepared before your meetings or have been putting a lot of energy or effort in. 

The solution to any of these problems is going to be obvious but you may need some convincing when the time comes. The longer you wait to fix it the more difficult things are going to be. Be honest with yourself about where you went wrong and contact your mentor ASAP. 

In summary

Each of my mentors has given me different insights over the last year, but all of them have helped me build a strong foundation for a professional networkMy final tip would be to recognise the value that every supporter in your network bringsHaving the support of such accomplished, experienced and (most importantly) unique people has given me great confidence in my academics, future career and all other facets of life. 

Further information

Securing a mentor can help you to develop key skills that employers are looking for, such as communication and personal skills, increase your confidence and motivation and provide you with an opportunity to delve deeper into an area of law or non-law that you are considering pursuing.

Many of the mentoring schemes on offer through the Law School close for applications at the end of October 2020, so make sure you read about each scheme before applying. Find out more about our various mentoring schemes and how to apply here.