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Industry insights: Mentorship

In our series of articles, we discuss topical issues facing the legal industry, all through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion (D, E & I)


The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” — Steven Spielberg


A fitting quote for the legal industry that is often challenged on its tendency to clone talent. While it can be argued that it is natural to want to be around people who you bond with or those that share similar interests and backgrounds with you, in doing so, we lose out on diverse talent, differing perspectives and creative problem-solving, from the very beginning. What better place to test the delicate balance of mentoring but in the classroom?


Following on from the announcement of our 'D+ in the Classroom' initiative that seeks to

provide mentorship and practical experience to aspiring lawyers in the senior school phase,

we felt that it was important to provide some insight into the importance of mentorship and

the benefits that can flow from it.


Our virtual assistant James, as part of the Diversity+ team, was keen to provide some

comment on his experience of mentorship and what he has learned to apply to our D+ in

the Classroom programme. Here is his journey:



As a first-generation university student studying at a non-Russell group institution, I sought mentorship opportunities to allow me to improve my understanding of the commercial law sector and become ‘more employable’. Through the help I have received, I have secured a traineeship at a top global law firm, commencing later this year after I complete my post-graduate studies in professional legal practice.

 

Having been in the position of both mentee and mentor, I hope to use this article to explain how powerful mentorship can be and the positive impact it can have on both parties.

 

As a mentee:

 

I started my undergraduate law degree with very little to no understanding or awareness of what it would really take to become a solicitor in Scotland. All I knew was that I wanted to combine my interest in business and my strengths that suited studying law, and try to make a career from that. It quickly dawned on me that becoming a lawyer would not be a straightforward journey in the slightest.

 

During my first year of university, I decided to focus on my studying, try to get used to university and perform as well as I could in my modules. I loved the course and threw myself into it with a lot of energy and commitment. However, I moved into my second year with good grades but not the first idea of how to apply these to get some legal work experience or insight. At this point, I didn’t even know what a vacation scheme was or how/when to apply for traineeships. None of this was helped by the fact that I worked at least 16 hours a week in a pub – in the summer, I worked double this to support my studies.

 

Some of my peers had relied upon family connections to get some summer work experience or even part-time work during term time in law firms. Unfortunately, the only time my parents had ever even met a lawyer was when they made their will and bought their house.

 

I decided to start researching platforms or programmes that would help someone in my position at least get some insight into commercial and corporate firms, what they looked for and how to apply. I applied for, and was accepted into, some mentoring schemes that allowed me to get access to top lawyers and ask them questions or get support with applications and my CV.

 

Moving into my third year of university, I started researching the kind of firms I wanted to apply to and what their application processes were like. It quickly became apparent to me that researching and drafting applications for these vacation schemes was onerous. Applying for these schemes was like taking an extra two modules each semester.

 

As I progressed through these applications with varying levels of success, I relied upon my mentors more than ever to show me that it was possible to take the career path that I wanted and to trust in my abilities. Being able to bend the ear of a London-based partner at a global law firm and senior general counsel at a huge investment bank was invaluable, and I will be forever grateful for the time they gave to me.

 

I really don’t think that university prepares you for the employability side of becoming a solicitor. This means that having mentors to aspire to or lean on is crucial to increasing diversity within the legal sector. Seeing, and being able to get support from, people that have ‘made it’ who are similar to you is so inspiring and can really help make quite an alienating process much more straightforward.

 

As a mentor:

 

After persevering with the application processes and securing a vacation scheme with a top international law firm, I was offered a training contract with the same firm, which I gladly accepted.

 

Although I still had around two years of my university studies remaining, I knew that some of my experiences and insight could be useful to students who hadn’t yet begun to apply for training contracts.

 

That is why I jumped at the chance to get involved in a mentoring scheme for aspiring lawyers who are applying for vacation schemes and/or traineeships. I volunteer on this programme as often as I can around my study and work commitments, and it is a really rewarding experience. Joining panels to discuss various areas of applications or giving some insight into what I have learned, reviewing applications and having one-to-one calls with mentees has equipped me with new skills, which I'm sure will help me in my future career and help me stay grounded.

 

It gives me a fresh perspective on the law and to get messages from mentees who have secured training contracts or vacation schemes with my support is always really nice to hear. It only takes around 3 hours of my week and is very flexible, but the positive impact it has is really refreshing. I would encourage anyone, if able, to get involved in mentoring. I didn’t really think I had much to offer, but you would be surprised just how helpful any and all insights can be to people needing some guidance or encouragement.

 

D+ in the Classroom 

 

This is why I was so keen to be involved in the D+ in the Classroom initiative. As someone who has had the perspective of both a mentee and a mentor, I know that the benefits such a scheme brings to all parties are tangible. The legal profession has and continues to make, great progress in increasing access for more people from more diverse backgrounds. As these young lawyers grow into the profession, it is important to make sure that the people in the position they once were feel that such a career is attainable for them too.  Mentorship plays a crucial role here.

 

Law firms are making great efforts to offer alternative routes into the profession and engage with young people who aspire to be lawyers. However, it is important to recognise that not every firm has the resources to launch and manage such schemes and programmes. Diversity+ offers a flexible alternative, creating bespoke programmes that match what young people need and what law firms can realistically provide to make it sustainable in the long term. This ensures that the content and possibilities offered are relatable to young people in school. We work closely with the schools, pupils and public sector agencies. We collect data directly from the pupils to better understand what they need and then prepare learning sessions and materials to better meet their specific needs. Everything is meticulously planned and prepared with the pupils' needs in mind. It takes time, energy and resources, but the results speak for themselves.

 

Hear from one of our volunteers, Sheena, a law student at Edinburgh Napier University, who joined one of our recent 'Share and Learn' sessions:


I think mentoring is important as it can give a person that bit of support, relevant knowledge and encouragement they may need. This can encourage mentees to follow their dreams, explore industries and even pursue a career path which they may have thought was not possible or feel capable of doing. Ultimately this helps mentees to reach their full potential and achieve great things in life!


I decided to volunteer for the 'D+ in the Classroom' project, as from when I first found out about it, I could see just how great and beneficial such a project could be for young people considering pursuing law and the positive impact it could make regarding the legal industry by enabling it to become more diverse. 

 

It is definitely great that law firms are becoming increasingly diverse when recruiting; however, 'D+ in the Classroom' helps young people from diverse backgrounds, who may have otherwise disregarded their desire to pursue law, to reach the recruitment stage of law firms in the first place. 

 

I found the learning session we did at Portobello High School to be very rewarding in knowing that participating in the session helped the high school pupils there to find out more about careers in law and gain information I wish I had known when I was in their position. 

 

I also found it quite interesting to hear what other volunteers had to say about their own experience and knowledge. There was a very welcoming and positive atmosphere which I believe created a great experience for everyone who attended! 


I see a project like 'D+ in the Classroom' being able to significantly impact the legal industry in Scotland and beyond - through encouraging more talent to take up law by demystifying a career in law. I can see how 'D+ in the Classroom' sessions can vitally help high school students to fully understand what is involved in a career in law and the LLB. 

 

If you or your firm are keen to partner with us on this impactful project, then please reach out to us by email or learn more on our project page.

 

 

 

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