But mentorship – as The College of Law’s Selina Nikoloudakis knows all-too well – can take many forms. And potential mentors are all around you.
Selina is an established practitioner: partner, lecturer, board member and long-time mentor. She credits her success to her early experience as a mentee – and now she’s sharing her story.
Show them what you’re made of
My first brush with mentorship happened in the early days of my career.
While I was at a legal firm, I was about to start assisting a pair of highly respected barristers. We were introduced and started working on certain matters together.
As we got to know each other, I realised how much knowledge and experience they both had. I respected them – and I knew I wanted to learn as much as I could from them.
But they needed to see that I was eager to learn; that I was dedicated and hardworking. Once they started to see that, our relationship deepened. And they took me under their wings.
I saw that they had invaluable knowledge and experience. But I was mindful of the fact that they were busy practitioners.
So I would always acknowledge that when I reached out. I’d text them and ask if they could contact me when they’re free, making sure to have my question ready so I wouldn’t waste their time.
They became my first mentors – even though we never had a formal discussion about mentorship.
A product of mentorship
My mentors helped me navigate the steep learning curve of my early career. Were it not for them, I don’t think I’d be where I am now: a partner in a firm and running a busy family law practice.
And of course, those early experiences have something to do with me becoming a mentor myself.
I’ve mentored in both formal and informal contexts. I mentored formally when I joined the University of South Australia Business Career Mentor Program, where I was paired up with a mentee who wanted to get into family law.
The program had us meet a certain number of times, and each time I would assign her a task. We’d meet again, chat about how she found it, and on it went.
There’s plenty of value in structured, formal mentoring programs like these. And they’re a great way to meet someone who is really keen to become a mentor.
But speaking from my own experience, I think there’s also lots of value in informal mentoring. This looks more like an occasional conversation than a structured curriculum.
Even in my current role, where partners are responsible for supervising junior solicitors, I find myself chatting to young lawyers when they need help. I tell them I’ve been in their situation and share what I learned.
That’s a form of informal mentoring.
That being said, there’s no reason why a formal mentoring relationship can’t become an informal relationship one day. A program could be the start of a really meaningful connection with someone.
Don’t be shy: Finding a mentor
My first experience being mentored came naturally, through building up relationships with other members of the profession. If you want to find a mentor, that’s an approach I’d recommend. (It’s also good practice in general.)
Or you could go straight to the source and find a mentoring program. Speak to The Law Society or The College of Law, whether you’re a current student or past. They’re always happy to help.
But I’d also tell you to step out of your comfort zone. And by that, I mean reach out to people.
Let’s say you want to get into family law. If you see a lawyer posting on LinkedIn about that area of practice – maybe they’re in a role you’d like to be in one day – send them a message!
That’s how some of the young lawyers I’ve worked with have connected with me. They’ve read my posts on social media, reached out directly, and we’ve arranged to grab a coffee, in person or over Zoom.
That might sound scary, but don’t forget that these senior lawyers are only human. And they were once in your position, too.
The key when approaching someone is to be respectful. Explain what you’re looking for, but understand that they’re busy people – and leave the ball in their court.
It’s very rare that you’ll be ignored or knocked back.
A lasting connection
Becoming a mentor is a way of giving back to the legal profession.
I was inspired by one of my earliest mentors who is now a judge. Prior to their judicial appointment, this person was incredible to work with – always happy to take a phone call and point me in the right direction.
But even though I’m now a mentor to others, my time as a mentee is certainly not over. I’m still in touch with some of my mentors.
There are two barristers in particular that I still work very closely with. They have tremendous technical knowledge and I think so highly of them both.
I know that I can send them a message at any time. And they always get back to me – even to this day.
Selina is a graduate of The College of Law Master of Applied Law (Family Law) – a program that she now teaches in. She often offers informal mentoring calls for her students.