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November 28 2018

How to develop a mentoring relationship

Legal Career Tips

Hannah Barton

How to develop a mentoring relationship

Why do I need a mentor?

Friends and family may lend a sympathetic ear to your career-planning, but it is important to reach out and connect with people who can offer objective career advice. By branching out and conversing with a range of people in your profession of choice, or even beyond, you will secure important guidance and advice for the future, and even make some great friends too!

Why would someone want to mentor me?

It can feel like you are a burden when seeking a mentor, particularly if you are having to forge new connections instead of relying on family friends. It is hard to shake this feeling. However, the person that you are seeking to develop a mentorship with will have benefited from being mentored themselves, and so they will understand that at this point in time they will be giving more than they will be getting. In the long run, mentorship can be an important investment for the both of you. In 10 years you may even be opening up new connections and opportunities to your mentor.

How do I develop a mentorship?

There are different types of mentor that you can seek out - they will largely be professional mentors, but they don’t necessarily need to be from the same field. Nevertheless, the best way to acquire a mentor is through mutual interest and compatibility. The best mentorships work when each party understands the other and you enjoy similar things. Don’t force a mentorship. Instead, they should follow from the spark of a good conversation, whether at a networking event or even in a gym class.

Exchange details

Ignore that voice telling you that you don’t need business cards because you don’t have an official title yet: just putting your name and contact details is enough, and your degree as well. Using business cards is quick and avoids the awkward exchange of details, leaving no room for error in the process.

Follow up on your initial meeting

A simple email with the subject line: ‘nice to meet you...last night/the other day/last week’  will work wonders. By following up via email you are in that person’s inbox so if opportunities ever spring to mind they can easily look you up.

Set out the parameters

Make sure that your mentor understands that you are asking for advice and guidance. You don’t have to develop a long-term relationship, it can be as brief as a single meetup for coffee or a phone call. Establish with yourself what you want from this person and what they can help you with. Are they an expert in a particular field of law? Do they have access to connections that can help you with your career goals? If you don’t know what you want from someone, it is unlikely that they will know what help to give you.

Show your appreciation

Mentors do not expect much from you at this point, but buying coffee to say thanks for their help goes a long way. A thank you card is always appreciated far more by the recipient than the sender anticipates.

Any last piece of advice?

Don’t be afraid to approach someone who seems very different from you. Although compatibility in a broad sense is important, diversity of all kinds can stretch you and encourage you to think in ways that you haven’t before. So always take a leap and dive-in with whomever you can grab for a conversation - it’s always worth it.

Words by Hannah Barton