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Mentoring: a key part of your development

Mentoring: a key part of your development

By LIV Young Lawyers


The LIV recognises the important role mentors play in the professional growth and development of lawyers. Since 2009 we have been helping to facilitate many successful and rewarding mentoring relationships for our members.

In 2018, the LIV will expand its mentoring offerings, with a suite of new programs including the Judicial Mentoring Program, linking members of the judiciary with new lawyers, and the Buddy Program, linking young lawyers with law students and graduates, as well as our new Barrister Mentoring Program partnering with the Victorian Bar New Barristers Committee. Visit the LIV Mentoring website to find out more and participate in this year’s program.

We interviewed mentor Justice Chris Maxwell, President of the Court of Appeal, and his mentees to find out more about their experiences with the program.

Justice Chris Maxwell, President of the Court of Appeal, and Mentor, LIV Judicial Mentoring Program

Why be a mentor?

The reason is simple – if I can provide guidance or encouragement to a young lawyer on the basis of my own experience, I welcome the opportunity to do so. It is inevitable that, in the early years of practice, lawyers feel some uncertainty about where their chosen career will take them. It is, I think, a help to be able to talk to someone who can both reassure and advise on future possibilities. Above all, I hope to communicate to young lawyers something of my passion for the practice of law and for the diverse contributions which a legal qualification equips you to make.

How does your expertise/experience help?

What strikes me, as I look back over almost 40 years in the law, is the rich variety of experiences which a legal career offers. Like most people, I could not have foreseen where my work as a lawyer would take me. With the benefit of that experience, I can now encourage young lawyers to realise the breadth of choice which presents itself, and to exploit those opportunities to the full. This year I have been mentoring lawyers with five years’ post-admission experience and, as I have said to them, that is a perfect time to think about doing something different.

Best advice you have been given?

I have learned through my experience both as a barrister and as a judge that acting ethically is of paramount importance. As I say to newly-admitted lawyers at admission ceremonies: “If it can’t be done ethically, it can’t be done. If you keep that firmly in mind, what might at first seem to be ethical dilemmas will resolve themselves quite readily. The ethical answer is the only answer, and no partner, however senior, and no client, however important, can ever require you to act unethically.”

Who is your mentor?

I have been fortunate to have a number of important mentors: when I was a solicitor, my mentor was Graeme Samuel; as a ministerial adviser, Gareth Evans; as a barrister, Michael Black; and, since I have been at the Court, (former) Chief Justice Warren and my former appellate colleague, Justice Robert Redlich. In each case, I learned much from the example they set, and benefited greatly from their wise counsel and unfailing encouragement.

Why have a mentor?

A mentoring program is a great way to transfer skills, knowledge and ideas from current leaders to emerging leaders within a profession. Some of those benefits include:

  • exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking 
  • advice on developing strengths and overcoming weaknesses and dealing with challenging situations
  • guidance on professional development and advancement
  • fostering relationships of trust and support within the legal profession.

Best advice you’ve ever been given?

It is hard to pick the best advice I have received – each mentor has contributed to my professional development in different ways and at different times. I think overall, having a mentor has given me confidence in my skills and knowledge, and as a result I have pursued opportunities I may not have otherwise.

Sanishya Fernando, Senior Solicitor, Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office, and Mentee, LIV Judicial Mentor Program

What did you learn being involved in the Judicial Mentoring Program?

I am currently involved in the Judicial Mentoring Program with The Honourable Justice Maxwell as part of an all-female group of six solicitors between three and five years’ post-qualification. This is the first time I have participated in a group mentoring program, and have found that group mentoring offers additional benefits to the traditional one-on-one model in that you not only learn from the advice and wisdom of your direct mentor, but each of the mentees bring their own experiences and perspectives to the group.

The Judicial Mentoring Program has been a fantastic way to meet other female solicitors at my level, and I have enjoyed the discussions we have had about issues we are all facing as not-so newly admitted lawyers.

I would encourage everyone to participate in a mentor program, whether that is within your organisation or through an organisation such as the LIV. I think continual mentoring throughout your career is important for personal and professional development, and you never know what exciting opportunities will result!

Phoebe Blank, Senior Associate, Kennedys, and Mentee, LIV Judicial Mentor Program

Why have a mentor?

A mentor is someone who can provide advice, look out for you and answer any question. I think it’s important to have a few different mentors with different experiences. For example, have a mentor in the workplace, outside the workplace, a mentor who is close to you in post admission experience, a mentor who is at the Bar or a member of the judiciary.

I am lucky that I have a mentor in my workplace, a mentor who is a few years ahead of me in the same practice area and a member of the judiciary.

Best advice you’ve ever been given?

The first firm I worked for had a partner who always told me “some days you’re the statute and some days you’re the pigeon”. I love this because it reminds me that some days you have wins and some days are terrible – accept that there will be highs and lows in your career.

Benefits experienced?

The benefits of having a mentor are endless. Having a member of the judiciary as a mentor (who has a long and successful career) has allowed me to ask questions about how to overcome challenges, manage difficult conversations and clients and how to take (and perhaps work out what is) the next step in my career.

I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of Justice Maxwell’s mentoring group. In this group, there are six young women lawyers and we meet approximately once a month to discuss a variety of topics with Justice Maxwell. This has been an excellent experience because we have been able to talk about workplace issues or social issues under the shield of Chatham House Rules. This type of mentoring is different from traditional “one-on-one” mentoring because it’s in a group which has allowed interesting and diverse opinions on topics.

The LIV Young Lawyers thanks Justice Maxwell, Sanishya and Phoebe for their time.

Applications for the 2018 LIV Mentoring Program are now open via our LIV Mentoring webpage. Please register your interest today. The Program will run from April – December 2018.

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