Analysing barriers is key content
Philip Goodstone, UK&I head of law at EY, believes there’s never been more need for mentoring. “Back in the 1990s, the market was a very different place for firms and for lawyers. At that time you got a lot more on-the-job training from senior lawyers, which was so important for people like me in our formative years. The level of commitment to training and development from partners – who would invest in you for the long term, help you with your work, take you to meetings and generally help a young lawyer shape his or her career – was just far greater. I see much less evidence of that nowadays and I think mentoring helps fill that gap.”
Goodstone agrees that the most important components of mentoring are clear objectives and measurable outputs. “After all, if at the end of the programme you haven’t made the shift you intended, it’s important to turn to something else.” He also thinks the devil is in the detail.
“I think for mentoring to really work, there has to be lots of, ‘Let’s pause here – what is it that you want to achieve and what is stopping you from achieving it?’ And that it must be the mentee, rather than the mentor, who leads the discussion, so that any barriers, whether real or perceived, can then be worked through.” He also agrees that mentoring seems to mean different things to different people. “So it is important that both parties truly understand it before embarking on it,” he says.
Personal chemistry can’t be ignored
Macknay sees no reason why mentoring shouldn’t be widely available. “We want to encourage a mentoring culture. That’s not to say we’d either impose mentoring or a particular match, because you have to want it and a lot of it comes down to personal chemistry. In fact, mentees must feel that if the chemistry doesn’t work, it’s fine to request another mentor.” Nobody expects mentors to put in masses of overtime, says Macknay. “Mentors here tend to have no more than three mentees. Mentoring meetings typically take one to two hours, and we recommend meetings every four to six weeks. Some people schedule meetings around important milestones – for example, before a performance appraisal.”
Building a meaningful and effective relationship
Individuals tell Slaughter and May that they can’t always talk to their friends (because they don’t usually understand the nuances of the profession) or someone who directly manages them (as the conversation often shifts to day-to-day matters rather than career development), whereas an impartial mentor can be more honest, explains Macknay.
“The kinds of questions we might ask a junior associate might be ‘What do you want out of this relationship?’ to which they might answer ‘How do I approach X piece of work? How do I ask for certain kinds of work without seeming to be pushy? If I have a workplace issue, what’s the best way to solve it?’ Then we’ll assess how they feel as the relationship goes on and gather feedback from both parties at the end so that the firm can see what has shifted during the relationship. People nearly always tell us it’s useful to have a sounding board, as well as having strategic discussions around certain issues.”
Slaughter and May is also hot on tracking the career paths of mentees. Macknay says: “It’s early days, but we’re keen to spot trends and try and understand what happens to people’s careers when they have had mentoring.”