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2021/04/01 Articles

Discovering Different Types of Mentoring

April 1, 2021

One of the most valuable assets of private practice firms is the intellectual capacity and labour power of their lawyers. Yet, many firms are having difficulty retaining their young talent. One of the factors cited to explain the high turnover rate is that young recruits are still too often evaluated in terms of profitability.

Millennials, however, are looking for a job that allows them to build connections and learn new skills and that has a meaning or mission. They also place a high value on getting frequent feedback. In other words, they expect their superiors to be “coaches”. Therefore, the development of a solid talent management program is a must. An important aspect of such a program is mentoring, which allows millennials to fulfil the aspirations described above.

In addition to a better retention rate, mentoring improves corporate culture and allows for the establishment of connections between colleagues, the verbalization of new ideas and the development of interpersonal qualities such as leadership. When it comes to malpractice prevention, mentoring allows for the transmission of legal knowledge and the development of sound file management habits.

In this article, we will present different emerging types of mentoring and their benefits.

Traditional Mentoring and Its Challenges

Traditionally, we think of mentoring as a relationship in which senior lawyers invest their time and share their knowledge and skills with less experienced colleagues. But there are challenges associated with this type of mentoring.

First of all, it requires a significant investment of time for both the mentor and the mentee. However, in our hectic lifestyles, time is short.

Moreover, in some firms, the number of lawyers who can act as mentors is less than the number of lawyers who want to be mentored. This is especially true given that within a decade, millennials will form the majority of employees.

In addition, it is not always easy to find someone with whom we feel comfortable disclosing our vulnerabilities.

Finally, some people prefer to learn from their peers rather from a senior colleague.

For these reasons, there is a pressing need to broaden our horizons and offer different mentoring opportunities to young lawyers. Here, then, are some alternatives to traditional mentoring. 

Reverse Mentoring 

In reverse mentoring,[1] a junior lawyer is paired with a senior lawyer, partner or executive committee member to impart knowledge or skills. In other words, the mentor is the junior lawyer and the mentee is the senior lawyer. The premise of this type of mentoring is that learning continues at any age and that everyone has knowledge to pass on.

The concept of reverse mentoring was introduced in 1999 by Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. Welch asked younger employees to teach their older colleagues how to use information technology. Nowadays, reverse mentoring has expanded to other topics.

Companies that have incorporated this type of mentoring have reported better retention of their young employees, increased productivity, improved morale, and increased innovation and change.

Specifically, the benefits for junior lawyers are the following:

  • Direct exchanges and interactions with lawyers who make the firm’s management decisions. This results in a better understanding of the firm’s issues;
  • The opportunity to contribute knowledge, skills, ideas or suggestions;
  • The opportunity to express one’s point of view and the feeling of being taken seriously;
  • The development of leadership skills;
  • The development of a sense of belonging to the firm;
  • The opportunity to get feedback from the mentee lawyer, including on the quality of the coaching provided and on the other interpersonal skills used by the junior lawyer;
  • Increased motivation and a sense of purpose in one’s work.

As for senior lawyers, the benefits are as follows:

  • Awareness of the issues faced by young lawyers and the fact that they have constructive knowledge and insights to pass on;
  • Updating their knowledge in important areas of legal practice;
  • Learning new skills;
  • Hearing fresh perspectives that are usually ignored or not raised within the firm;
  • Greater insight into younger clients;
  • The opportunity to show that they are open-minded;
  • Increased faith in the future of the firm.

Group Mentoring 

In general, there are three types of group mentoring: team mentoring, peer mentoring and facilitated group mentoring.

In team mentoring, one mentor or a group of mentors with diverse skills transfer their knowledge or skills to a group of mentees with similar career development goals.

Of course, team mentoring can be done in person. However, given the current pandemic, video conferencing and collaborative work platforms lend themselves well to this type of mentoring. The use of online platforms has several advantages, such as the ability to create chat groups, share documents, survey team members, or share a common calendar to announce professional development activities or the availabilities of the mentor or mentors.

As for peer mentoring, it brings together colleagues with similar career goals. The dynamics are as follows: members of the group take turns presenting one of their problems or issues and the other members try to find solutions. In other words, collective wisdom is used to solve problems encountered by colleagues or employees.

As with team mentoring, online platforms can certainly be used to support this type of mentoring. In their article Mentoring Millennials, Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd give the example of a telecommunications company that set up a collaborative platform. The platform allows employees to pass on their knowledge or tips to their colleagues through short video or audio recordings, podcasts, RSS feeds or discussion threads, or through traditional training documents. Employees who view the content can evaluate it on the basis of relevance and quality. They can also contact the colleague who posted the content to learn more on the topic. Of course, it is not always possible to create one’s own online mentoring platform. That said, it is possible to recreate a collaborative platform similar to the one described above with platforms already on the market.

As for facilitated group mentoring, it can be viewed from two perspectives. In the first approach, a group of people decide to retain the services of an expert to facilitate their discussions around a topic and learn more. In the second approach, facilitated group mentoring is a complement to traditional mentoring. The usual relationship between a mentor and a mentee exists, but the mentee’s colleagues enhance the mentoring relationship by helping the mentee identify goals, establish an agenda for meetings, and so on.

Given that roles can sometimes be reversed between mentor and mentee, particularly in peer mentoring, the following are some of the overall advantages of group mentoring.

  • Individual preferences are taken into account in establishing the mentoring relationship. Indeed, many individuals prefer to learn in groups;
  • As a corollary, the intimidation that can accompany one-on-one mentoring is reduced;
  • Different points of view can be obtained: those of the mentors and other mentees. This enriches and deepens the mentee’s understanding of the situation;
  • There is an opportunity to understand how a team works when joint projects are created;
  • It results in the creation of an extended network of professionals with a spirit of camaraderie;
  • It increases their influence;
  • Skills such as communication and leadership are developed;
  • It saves time and resources. 

Anonymous Mentoring 

This type of mentoring uses psychological testing and background reviews to match a mentor and mentee. Typically, the mentor is a professional coach or seasoned executive. The parties to the mentoring relationship have no idea who their counterpart is, since exchanges take place entirely online and are confidential. The following are the benefits of this type of mentoring:

  • For some, the confidentiality associated with anonymous mentoring allows them to ask questions without the fear of looking foolish. Similarly, mentors are more likely to be willing to disclose their vulnerabilities by sharing what they have learned from making mistakes;
  • The is no hidden agenda on the part of the mentor regarding the professional development of the mentee;
  • Issues related to time zone differences or cultural differences are reduced, given that everything happens online in a confidential manner;
  • The relationship requires less time and energy.

Episodic Mentoring 

This mentoring is done through brief meetings or exchanges between an experienced person and a more junior person. However, as its name suggests, episodic mentoring does not involve an ongoing, sustained relationship. In this type of mentoring, mentors agree to be available to answer questions as needed.

In her article Changing Concepts and Models of Mentoring, Ida O. Abbott gives the example of a law firm that set up an intranet on which certain lawyers who have agreed to do episodic mentoring have posted their profile, including their skills, their role within the firm, their areas of practice and their expertise. Other lawyers in the firm can contact the episodic mentors when they have a question. The mentor and mentee have a short meeting during which the mentor gives tips, advice, suggestions and information to the mentee. The advice can also be provided by telephone or email depending on the agreement between the parties. There is no obligation on the part of the mentor to continue the relationship or to do more, although this is certainly possible.

Many law firms have noted the benefits of this type of mentoring. It increases internal communication within firms, information transfer and overall efficiency. The result is institutional knowledge within the firms. Furthermore, in international firms or firms with several regional offices, lawyers have quick access to knowledge that is sometimes dispersed far and wide.

For participants in the mentoring relationship, the benefits of episodic mentoring are the following:

  • This type of mentoring is less formal and demanding. In particular, episodic mentoring requires less of a time commitment;
  • The parties can focus on immediate learning needs without having to develop a mentoring plan or formulate goals. Information is conveyed when it is needed;
  • Generally speaking, participants in this type of mentoring find it easy, flexible, quick and more efficient;
  • There is an opportunity to build connections with colleagues or senior lawyers;
  • Different lawyers are approached for different skills or knowledge.

In this article, we explored different types of mentoring. Although millennials sometimes get bad press, they are hungry for knowledge and feedback. Moreover, they don’t mind working hard as long as their job has meaning for them. It is therefore important to provide them with a variety of learning opportunities, which is also true for other generations of lawyers. After all, the health and sustainability of our profession is at stake.

 

[1]See, on the same subject, the December 15, 2020 capsule entitled Have You Heard of Reverse Mentoring? in our Maîtres@droits blog.

References:

See “3 Types of Group Mentoring”, in Center for Mentoring Excellence, May 27, 2016, online: https://www.centerformentoring.com/3-types-of-group-mentoring.

Elin Gill, “Different Types of Mentoring and the Benefits of a Mentor”, in the Launch Blog, November 16, 2017, online: https://www.launchrecruitment.com.au/career-tips/different-types-mentoring-benefits-mentor/.

Ida O. Abbott, “Changing Concepts and Models of Mentoring”, in PD Quarterly, May 2019, online: https://idaabbott.com/wp-content/uploads/Changing-Models-1.pdf.

Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd, “Mentoring Millennials”, in Harvard Business Review, May 2010, online: https://hbr.org/2010/05/mentoring-millennials.

Judith Lindenberger, “Mentoring and Millennials”, in Lindenberger Group, July 17, 2015, online: https://lindenbergergroup.com/mentoring-and-millennials-3/.

See “What is Group Mentoring?”, in the Mentoring Complete Blog, online: https://www.get.mentoringcomplete.com/blog/what-is-group-mentoring.