“It means different things at different stages of your career. When I was younger, I think it meant finding someone who I could look up to and respect.  [Someone] that I thought enjoyed their life as a lawyer and also had a personal life, and taught me technique and the tools of the trade as to how to be a lawyer. When I think about mentoring now, I think it’s about supporting younger lawyers, for me, particularly women in a male-dominated industry, to get them to be able to move higher up the food chain and into leadership positions.” ~ Rachel Mockler Vice President, Legal at Flatiron Construction

In BC, women have accounted for about 50% of all law graduates over the past decade, however only around 36% of practicing lawyers in private practice are female, with an even smaller percentage in partner positions.

Having women in visible leadership positions not only promotes a culture where advancement is based on merit rather than gender, but also encourages junior female lawyers to aspire to such positions. Mentorship is instrumental in retaining young female lawyers in the profession, and subsequently in developing more leadership positions for women.

The Justicia Guide to Women’s Leadership in Law Firms discusses the value of women’s leadership and identifies several practical strategies for advancing and supporting women leaders.

In 2015, Mapping Her Path conducted a survey that collected the viewpoints of 400 women lawyers in BC. They described their aspirations and excitement about the profession, their struggles to manage career transitions, be taken seriously in their workplaces and how the demands of family and motherhood compete with the demands of a legal career.

Women continue to face unconscious and sometimes systemic bias in the workplace. In the Mapping Her Path survey, respondents reported alarming levels of workplace sexual harassment (35%) and describing their disappointment as they made career decisions driven by the inflexibility of the private firm model.

Learn more about their challenges in the Mapping Her Path Needs Assessment Report and The Glass Ceiling for BC Lawyers article in the December ’17 issue of BarTalk.

The idea of mutual benefit is at the heart of any thriving relationship. In the case of mentorship, this means that the narrow view of mentoring as a one-way transfer of knowledge is replaced by a richer arrangement where the information flow is reciprocal. So what does this look like in the context of the legal profession?

Senior lawyers guide more junior practitioners by:

  • Helping them build and grow essential professional networks
  • Sharing insight into the reality of legal practice
  • Normalizing and validating their experiences
  • Offering career development advice
  • Teaching them important lessons about ethics and professionalism, and
  • Explaining points of law.

For their part, junior lawyers help their mentors by:

  • Educating them about technology innovations that are crucial to marketing and business development
  • Offering fresh perspectives on well-established legal principles
  • Providing insight into the needs and values of the next legal generation
  • Giving feedback on senior lawyers as leaders, and
  • Inspiring a renewed commitment to the practice of law.

Lawyer mentoring relationships sustain not just the individual mentor and mentee, but the broader legal community we belong to, and by extension, the people we support – our clients – through the work we do.

~ Erin Brandt Kent Employment Law