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Interest in mentor programs spikes as clerkships decline

Interest in mentor programs spikes as clerkships decline

elizabeth aitken

The number of applications for a Victorian mentoring program has shot up by 30 per cent this year as students find it increasingly tough to secure clerkships.

“There has been a dwindling number of clerkship and grad positions available, which is probably necessitating students taking alternate pathways into legal careers,” said program coordinator and executive committee member of Victoria Women Lawyers (VWL) Elizabeth Aitken (pictured).

Ms Aitken, who works at TressCox Lawyers, was previously a mentee in the program and now participates as a mentor.

The Law Student Mentoring Program, which has paired nearly 1,000 lawyers and students since 2008, is run by VWL in collaboration with Women Barristers Association (WBA). The launch event was held at K&L Gates' offices on May 13.

This year 457 students applied, but the program struggled to find enough mentors to meet the demand, matching 131 female law students with women from the profession.

“The mentor side is always our problem,” Ms Aitken said. “Since the program started we’ve found we’ve had pretty much the same number of mentors every year.”

The deficit of mentors has meant that law students in their final year of study are preferred. However, Ms Aitken said there were other opportunities to network by joining committees and attending VWL and WBA events.

Ms Aitken said mentoring is an enormously rewarding experience and encouraged lawyers and barristers to consider participating.

The purpose of the program is to provide students with insight into the realities of legal practice and also to forge a support network to help retain women in the profession.

“The reason the program was started was to ease then what were well-reported attrition rates of female lawyers in the profession,” Ms Aitken said.

“By simply linking a student with a professional contact the program can shed some light on the legal sphere. While every relationship is different, the common topics that we hear include things like how to survive traineeships, career progression, work-life balance and what to expect in specific practice areas.”

The program, which can involve anything from casual coffee dates to shadowing a mentor at work, runs for 12 months, but the aim is to form a relationship between the student and professional that will last throughout their careers.

“My own experience as a former mentee and a current mentor is that the relationship will often be carried beyond the formal scope of the program,” said Ms Aitken.

“You may have the pleasure of watching your student progress from student to fully fledged lawyer. Your role is providing advice, support and encouragement along the way.”

Ms Aitken concluded by outlining the three top qualities of a good mentor: “The first one is honesty about your experiences and knowledge of law and practice. The second  is generosity, particularly in accessing your network but also in terms of providing your time. The third is example; while advice is important, it is most effective to lead by example.”

Image from the launch event (left to right): Megan Fitzgerald (WBA convenor), Commissioner Marcia Neave (program patron), Kirsten Adams (VWL convenor), Jennifer Batrouney SC (guest speaker) and Elizabeth Aitken.

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