Becoming a mentor

Christian Weaver argues that mentoring can provide students with many of the key skills that are needed in the legal profession.

Completing an eclectic spectrum of modules in your degree gives you a broad depth of knowledge in your chosen course of study, right? But as one of my friends put it to me: “Why am I being forced to study land law, when the area of law I want to pursue has absolutely nothing to do with it… does this not just distract me from reaching my end goal?”

Although I could find flaws in his argument, I could see his point. Why are we studying modules we never intend to use, when that module time could be used doing something more directly aligned to our aspirations.

As bemusing as it may sound, I believe that students would greatly benefit from learning and practicing the skills of being a mentor as an essential part of their law degree.

The reasoning behind this remark is simple: the key skills that one can derive from being a mentor parallel those needed in nearly every area of the broad subject that is law.

Interpersonal skills are perhaps among the most important a lawyer can possess. You will need them both when conversing with your client, but also when articulating your arguments in a court. There are few better ways to practice your interpersonal skills than by sitting in a room with a mentee you probably don’t know too well, with the need to build effective rapport for an hour or so. With an increasingly diverse society brings a broader range of clients interfacing with the legal system. Having experience of mentoring people with different personalities and from different backgrounds will subsequently stand you in extremely good stead.

A second vital skill is the ability to have appropriate contingency measures prepared in light of any eventuality. This skill is especially important in the court room, where a judge may ask a cutting question requiring a precise response. As the relationship with your mentee develops, so too develops an implicit unwritten expectation from your mentee, that as their mentor you know the answer to any question that they could possibly ask. Mentoring young people provides an environment whereby you can hone this skill, without the extreme pressures that would exist within the court room.

A prospective legal professional must also have the ability to pay close attention to detail. Your mentee will gradually begin to treat your words of wisdom as ‘gospel’. They will not question its validity, but instead presume that because the information came from you, it is factually correct. This puts a great deal of responsibility upon you as a mentor, as your guidance can influence the course of their lives. To parallel this situation with a legal one; mistakenly encouraging a client to take their case to court when other methods may have been better suited could have disastrous consequences. When acting in the capacity of a mentor, the effect of providing erroneous information may a limited effect on your mentee – you can inform them of your error in the next mentoring session. Unfortunately in a legal setting, such misinformation is less easy to amend, and in addition could demonstrate a remarkable level of incompetence in light of the fact that a person’s rights could be at stake. Being a mentor therefore provides a suitable arena to practice and perfect this skill.

Finally, your law degree does not prepare you for the tough reality that the legal profession is a hard one to get in to! Demonstrating experience and skills of mentoring could therefore prove invaluable. There are few better ways of demonstrating the rhetorical ‘I have excellent interpersonal skills and commitment’ on your CV, than by proclaiming that every week you carried out hour long one-to-one mentoring sessions with a number of very different mentees. Of course, not only will these skills help you in getting a job, but also in your performance while undertaking it.

The benefits of mentoring are endless and go far beyond that what I have covered in this article. Although mentoring may never become a compulsory module, it is no longer a challenging area to get in to, with opportunities forever arising. In light of this, I believe mentoring should definitely be an area law students actively try to get involved in.