CAREER MENTORING has found its way onto the agenda of the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA), with the organisation’s Victorian branch currently recruiting and training staff for the nation’s first mentoring program for in-house lawyers.
Katherine Briggs, in-house counsel at Members Equity, was on the committee organising the program in the Victorian branch, as well as participating as a mentoree.
“The idea was to find a way to give something back to subscription-paying members,” she said. “We also wanted to increase the awareness of what ACLA does, and develop and raise the profile of in-house lawyers.”
ACLA instigated a six-month pilot program, which has now come to an end. Participants were matched by a consultant at Melbourne’s Human Asset Development Group, following guidelines including the requirement that mentor and mentoree be not only from different firms, but in different industries.
The idea was that the program would not be to facilitate job opportunities, but should remain a pure mentoring relationship dealing with life skills like communication, promoting oneself and time management.
One area mentorees in the program reported getting assistance with was learning to demonstrate the value they bring to their organisations. “In-house lawyers tend to be seen as cost centres,” said Briggs.
“They need to have skills to address that and to make sure they are included in decision making where there might be legal consequences. I sit in the project offices as the only legal person, quite isolated from the other lawyers. So for me the best thing was getting techniques to help me communicate better in the company what my role is, how I can be a help to them not a hindrance.”
Briggs’ mentor was Justine Halloran, corporate counsel at Coles Myer. Halloran said that she participated in the program out of the desire that some other young lawyer would have the kind of objective support and guidance that she didn’t have when she first went in-house 15 years ago.
After two years in a law firm, she was put in charge of the business of Kmart, with no other lawyers or team but on her own. “Had I had a mentor then I think I would have had a better perspective on how to handle people and matters in a corporate environment,” she said. As a mentor, Halloran herself got more than she expected out of the program. “It was very much a two way street,” she said.
Feedback from the pilot suggested that mentorees had expected to be matched with a much older person, and that mentors wanted more printed resources to help them identify objectives, and wanted to make a clear and definite start and finish to the six-month period.
“The program will address those issues. For example, next time we will manage expectations; make people see that your mentor will be someone with more experience than you; wiser, but not older, than you,” said Briggs.
ACLA is currently recruiting mentors and in mid-June will commence training. Sue Zablud, director of Human Asset Development Group, and the consultant who worked on ACLA’s pilot program, said that the 2006 program was already oversubscribed with mentorees, and “very popular”. As in the pilot, Zablud will spend time with both mentor and mentoree in an “intangible process of getting to know them and with whom they will have chemistry”. Participants for whom there is no best match will be encouraged to go into the pool for the next program.
The state-wide program will commence late June, and will run for six months with 20 pairs of lawyers. Pairs are free to continue the relationship afterwards at their convenience. Mentors are asked to commit to one hour a month of meetings, plus completing a six-weekly feedback report.
The organisation plans to take the initiative nationwide as soon as practicable.