In an industry like Law which can be savage at its worst and overwhelming at its best, a mentor can help you navigate the early stages of your career. For aspiring and junior barristers a barrister mentor can have a dramatically positive impact upon their experiences of the profession. This blog post will explain why mentorship is important, where to look for a barrister mentor and how to choose one.
What is a barrister mentor?
A mentor is defined as: “an experienced and trusted adviser” and the act of mentorship is defined as: “advising or training (someone, especially a younger colleague)”. At the Bar, a barrister mentor advises someone junior to them as they make their way through the profession.
Barrister mentors are available for BPTC students through your Inn of Court. However, if like me you were not able to get a mentor through your Inn, you will need to do the work to find a barrister mentor yourself.
Why is mentorship from a barrister important?
Mentors are important for a junior trying to make their way to the top of a profession. Whilst you are definitely special and unique, the struggles and challenges you face may not be and mentors can help you retain perspective which is vital. With a mentor to guide you, your journey may not be so intimidating because your mentor’s insights and experience will better prepare you.
Another good thing about a mentor is that they are an addition to your network and be your ‘champion’. In her interview for Counsel Magazine by Desiree Artesi, Dame Linda Dobbs (the first Black High Court Judge) was asked what advice would she give a young black woman coming to the Bar today and said: ‘My advice would be the same to any young person. Get yourself a mentor; someone who will support you. Get yourself a champion, who is not necessarily the same person. I had people who pushed and championed me. Had they not done so, I certainly would not have done it.’ A champion will help to make sure you are seen and recognised for your abilities and help put you in the spaces you deserve to be in.
Where to look for a barrister mentor
There are a few different obvious places to look for a barrister mentor:
- Inns of Court mentoring schemes
- Mentoring schemes offered by organisations targeting student and junior barristers (Cake and Counsel, The Law Collective, Black Men in Law, Black Barristers Network, Women in Criminal Law, Women in Family Law are some)
- Mentoring schemes offered by individual barristers (these are often advertised on Twitter)
Aside from these obvious places, the next way to find a mentor is through networking at events and conferences and qualifying sessions. If you’re feeling a bit shy, read my blog posts on networking effectively and also, why you should always carry a business card. Some of my favourite conferences have been the Urban Lawyers Careers Conference, the First 100 Women’s Conference and the RebLaw Conference.
How to choose a barrister mentor: what to look for
It is important that you take your time before deciding to make someone your mentor.
Firstly, not every barrister is going to be a good mentor. Some people are not secure enough in themselves to support other people effectively. They are the kind of people who will project their own fears and insecurities onto others in the name of ‘giving advice’. A career as a barrister is difficult to obtain and for some people matters are made more difficult on account of their ethnic, social, financial or educational background. A mentor who doesn’t understand this could crush your spirit because they won’t know how to support you properly. They may say things to you that suggest that you are doomed to fail because of things that are outside of your control (such as your race, gender or religion) and that the profession will not accept you as you are. Avoid people purporting to be mentors who have these views. They will not give you what you need which is a champion that can give you reliable and effective guidance.
Further, some mentors are not able to support you through hard times. One of the main responsibilities of a mentor is to help you navigate the toughest challenges you face. You should feel that your mentor is the kind of person you could call when you felt stuck, sad or angry. They should be someone you trust enough to share vulnerability with and know that it will be (a) kept confidential; (b) received with empathy and support. Of course this doesn’t mean that you should spam their phone all the time (unless they want that) but it does mean that your mentor should put you at ease and not scare you.
Finally, a mentor should be someone who is truly invested in seeing you succeed. They should be someone who you trust would really vouch for you and help you progress in your career. If you get the sense that your mentor is not very invested in your career and seeing you succeed, then you should consider getting another one. Your mentor should be just as excited over every win and success as you are.
A final note on barrister mentors
Barrister mentors can be at any level of experience and any age because the essential factor is that they are someone you can learn from. It doesn’t matter that they are still learning and have their own mentors to help them too.
Everyone needs mentorship no matter how established they are in their field. To borrow an example from Hip Hop which is one of the toughest and most competitive creative fields, the best rappers in history often have had mentors who lead and guide them throughout their career. After a decade making music and dominating the charts Nicki Minaj still considers the rappers Lil Wayne and Jay Z to be her mentors and consults them both for advice on how to deal with challenges and obstacles in her career.
Good luck with finding a mentor and once you have, keep them involved in your journey. My mentors have been amazing and have gotten me through some pretty difficult times, helping me to get stronger after every challenge.
Until next time,