Why set up a mentoring and buddying scheme?

There can be an initial hesitance to engage in mentoring schemes – especially in smaller practices. Melanie Hadwin and Susanta Banerjee make the case for how mentoring can help your practice and your staff to thrive.
A junior colleague sits across the table from his mentor.
Photograph: SDI Productions

As lawyers, we're always under pressure: to do the best for our clients, attract the best work, make targets, progress in our careers, become a partner. The list could be endless.

Pressure doesn't have to be negative, but it can take a little longer to see the positive benefits.

Lawyers can be stuck in their ways. We like tradition. We like the ease of the familiar and what we have done before.

But we also like things that make a difference and make our lives – and those of our clients – better. Mentoring can help to achieve that.

What is mentoring?

The word 'mentoring' means different things to different people. Many firms use different terminology – it could encompass buddying, it could be called supervision.

Whatever name it's given, the process is about many things including:

  • creating an open dialogue
  • providing a sounding board and network for support and career development discussions
  • sharing experiences and, to a certain extent, coaching

Having both practised in large firms, we are aware that in those organisations, mentoring, buddying and supervision can be highly structured with clear mandatory policies often in place.

We've both benefitted from structured mentoring during our careers and have mentored many through their own journeys. We find the right support through mentoring is key to success.

We think it is important for us all to benefit equally from mentoring.

About 17% of solicitors work as sole practitioners or in small/medium-sized firms, so if more of us get involved, it can and will make the industry better.

When we were discussing our experiences of mentoring, some common themes emerged.

So, why should you have a mentoring scheme?

Quality and consistency

One of the key benefits of mentoring is that you can make sure there is consistency in the quality of advice and service being given to clients.

You can be confident in your team and the quality of service they will offer to your clients.

Having evidence of appropriate mentoring policies, and putting these into practice, helps to show quality on audit.

It could also help to gain accreditations and quality marks that will assist in providing you with a competitive edge.


Mentoring highlights areas of development for both individuals and teams. It allows you to ensure gaps in learning are identified and training can be provided.

This can be in terms of blackletter law and soft skills, such as delegation or managing challenging behaviour.

This ensures training for employees is appropriate and up to date, and that any personal development plans are covering the right areas.

Mentoring gives us the opportunity to learn efficiencies and best ways of practice, which in turn make enterprises more profitable and feeds growth.


Mentoring impacts the entire ethos of a firm. It is part of what can attract prospective employees.

This is not just about saying you do something, but showing how you do it. It shows integrity. It puts your people first.

Mentoring will give you a competitive edge and attract the best talent.

This will have a positive impact on the reputation of the firm and encourage growth. The best set of lawyers will attract the best work.

Career development

Wherever we have worked, having a mentor has always been seen as a key feature when discussing career progression.

Having a separate perspective allows reflection. You can see your strengths and areas for development in a way you might not otherwise recognised.

Offering support and leading by example is particularly important for junior colleagues.

We are custodians of the next generation of lawyers. Why wouldn't we want to make it the best experience for them and encourage them to be even better than we are ourselves?

Mentoring fits neatly with appraisal processes and allows review on any targets or measures you set.

Safe space

Having open and frank discussions is a key component of a mentoring relationship.

Providing a safe space for colleagues nurtures the best from them and ensures that wellbeing is actively considered.

Knowing that you will be listened to, your ideas are important, the firm cares if you are struggling and wants to keep your development at the forefront makes for a happy employee.

We find open discussions work best across all levels of seniority. The more senior you become, the smaller your circle might feel. You too need a safe space.


Mentoring enables meaningful connection. It helps to create a collective experience where all questions are welcome.

One positive outcome of the pandemic is that we are now far more easily connected in a remote world.

Mentoring can and should take advantage of that. With hybrid working seemingly here to stay, a modern approach to mentoring can and should be beneficial for all.

A case for change

According to the winner of the Business Book Awards' Business Book of the Year 2023, Nicholas Janni's Leader as Healer, today's leaders must "possess potent powers for logic, reason, discernment and strategic forecasting", alongside being "empathetic ... grounded and intuitive".

Let's be the leaders our industry deserves and provide mentoring of the highest quality. What benefits one will benefit us all.

I want to know more

Create lasting impact and become a better leader by becoming a mentor to aspiring solicitors from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Find out more about the Diversity Access Scheme and help us empower the next generation of solicitors.

Attend our Future of Work Conference 2023, where our expert speakers will offer practical advice on how to support staff and develop your talent pool.

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