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Breaking down barriers: mentoring programme

13 October 2015

Julie Ashdown, head of Corporate Responsibility, Equality and Diversity, discusses the Law Society's new mentoring programme and explains how to sign up.

Law Society research into career barriers showed that, although they were entering the profession in increasing numbers, women, BAME (black, asian and minority ethnic), LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender), and solicitors with disabilities were still significantly under-represented at partner level and above. So, we have introduced a range of activities to help address this, such as speed networking and events profiling role models.

Our latest initiative is a mentoring programme for these groups. We know that some firms and organisations have their own mentoring scheme, so the Law Society programme is aimed at practising solicitors who do not have access to a workplace scheme. We know that solicitors in these under-represented groups can feel isolated if there is no-one like them at senior level in their firm or organisation or if there are no visible role models. Some may find it hard to identify a suitable mentor relatively near to them. By developing a mentoring partnership, the Law Society can help these members. This means that all the partnerships will be across firms and could bring business benefits as well.

Feedback from our events has shown that many solicitors want to give back and share the knowledge and skills they have built up with others. Signing up as a mentor is a good way for them to do this. There are few restrictions on mentors. We do ask that they hold a practicing certificate (PC) unless there is a good reason why they do not, such as working in an area like central government where no PC is required, or they are recently retired. And while many of the mentoring partnerships will be between people with similar characteristics, there may also be advantages to being mentored by someone who knows what it takes to get to the top, and wants to improve the diversity of the profession.

The mentoring programme has been developed in collaboration with diversity and inclusion specialists, Brook Graham, who will match the mentors and mentees and run training programmes for them. Brook Graham will also manage the programme.

Both mentors and mentees will need to commit to the programme for 12 months and agree to meet approximately once a month. Brook Graham will monitor progress, ensuring that there are regular meetings or conversations between the pairs and resolving any difficulties which may emerge.

This is a pilot programme and it is an exciting opportunity for solicitors to access professional support in a structured way at little cost to themselves (participants will be expected to meet their own travel and incidental costs). At this stage it is focused on support for career progression for those groups which are most under-represented at the top of the legal profession, in comparison with numbers in other professions and within the population at large. This means that some protected characteristics are not covered by the scheme.

If you enjoy supporting, developing and encouraging others - even if your experience has been relatively informal - please volunteer to be a mentor! Brook Graham will provide information about how to structure your meetings with your mentee and what kind of topics you might cover.

If you are looking for support in taking the next step in your professional career and are keen to learn and develop, please apply to be a mentee. You should be open to ideas and willing to follow advice between meetings. Applications close on 20 October 2015. This is a pilot year, but we plan to run the scheme again next year. If you miss the deadline, you can register your interest for next year's scheme by emailing

Tags: represent | mentoring | team

About the author

Julie Ashdown OBE is head of Corporate Responsibility, Equality and Diversity at the Law Society. She was previously the chair of the board of trustees for Womankind Worldwide and before that spent 30 years in senior management for Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service. She was awarded an OBE in January 2015 for services to equality and diversity.
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