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Reverse Mentoring - are you kidding me?

Reverse Mentoring - are you kidding me?

By Mark Wilton, ILANZ Vice-President and National Legal Counsel. Police Prosecution Service NZ Police| 27 November 2019

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This year one of the hot topics for discussion at the ACC Australia 25th National In-house Legal conference held in Adelaide was a reverse mentoring discussion facilitated by two lawyers at Fujitsu Oceania in Australia. The in-house legal and compliance team designed and delivered its own unique pilot reverse mentoring program. The experience of the Fujitsu team has been very positive for employee engagement and expanding their in-house teams’ skills sets. It is recognised there is value in fully realising the skills and experiences of junior lawyers that are not always communicated well to senior practitioners.

Reverse mentoring is a concept where senior lawyers (as mentees) are paired with junior lawyers (as their mentors) as a way for both participants to professionally develop legal and communication skills by actively listening to each other when sharing their experiences, perspectives and ideas.

Forbes magazine lists five key factors required for a successful program. Both mentors and mentees should:

1. define their expectations

2. agree rules of engagement

3. have a willingness to learn from each other.

The relationship should be built on:

4. trust; and

5. transparency.

I agree the program is better rephrased as mutual mentoring to reflect the more collaborative approach to the pairing of lawyers at completely different points in their careers. 

The premise is that learning does not always have to be top-down and that mutual learning helps legal teams to future proof practice and stay competitive

The pilot program at Fujitsu was designed to assist with the induction of graduates and create a platform for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It also had benefits for employee engagement. Two issues addressed in the mentoring sessions were unconscious bias and mental health. One bias identified was the misconception that mentors would be able to teach IT skills to their mentees. The pilot being clear that it was not designed to provide millennial tech support to senior practitioners.

Participants were based in different locations across Australia and New Zealand and meetings were conducted over an online conference call once per month.

The paper produced for the conference describes that despite some scepticism about the proposed goals of the pilot, mentors found the mentoring sessions enjoyable and a good learning experience with mentees reporting they learned new insights through the sessions. 

My thoughts are that whilst ultimately the success of mutual mentoring will boil down to the quality of the connection between the two participants, the potential and tangible benefits for the professional development for both lawyers is enormous quite apart from fostering professional collegiality. 

I would encourage our more senior members of the profession to consider initiating such a program in their practice even if you start gently with an informal invitation to a junior practitioner to share a morning latte together and go from there!

The New Zealand Law Society is currently running a mentoring pilot programme in Auckland and Christchurch with over 420 lawyers signed up as mentors and mentees.

If you are a member of these branches and are interested in participating, you can register to be matched electronically or manually with a mentor or mentee. Click here for more information.