Back in the mid 1980’s a young Judy Brennan got the chance of a weeks work experience in a local law firm. There have been a lot of changes in the way in which we do our work since then. The current generation of students would be amazed to learn that the most advanced IT at that time was probably an Olivetti Electronic type writer. (We still have some on a shelf just in case some super virus wipes out the internet and all our IT.)
Despite the advances in technology and the changes to the market place the fundamentals of our job remain the same. Recently one of our partners said to me that the talk of change in the profession is the thing that never changes nor does the fact that people still need help with the same things now that they did in the 80’s.
One other thing that never changes is the need for students to experience first-hand the job and life that they are studying towards. Thanks to someone offering our top boss Judy Brennan a week of work experience back in the day when hair was big and shoulder pads were even bigger we have always offered work experience. Judy found her experience inspiring and has been committed ever since to ensuring that we offer the same opportunity to the next generation.
The quality of work experience varies and I would be the first to admit that at times we have not offered the most constructive of experiences. It is not uncommon in mixed practices to accept people for work experience and when they arrive send them to the criminal department because we are supposedly the more interesting of departments and can take students down to court.
It dawned on me a couple of years ago that sitting at the Magistrates drinking coffee listening to my fellow Criminal Defence advocates bemoan the latest reforms and legal aid cuts did not really qualify as an engaging or meaningful experience of the work place.
Before joining the mentoring scheme we started to get more sophisticated and now try and ensure that all our work experience students get an insight into the administrative side of the work, an understanding of billing, the importance of the client relationship and we get them to do one bit of research as well as letter drafting. We also still take students down to court and still listen to the chat about impending doom just so they get a rounded experience.
When we joined the mentoring scheme it helped us learn how to deliver a better quality of experience. Through the scheme each solicitor who partakes is assigned one student. We have an initial meeting and listen to the student’s views and goals and what they hope to gain from the experience. We then plan a number of sessions aimed at addressing the student’s goals.
Last year my mentee had a number of goals so we had a 2 hour session on each subject with me and other staff members contributing so the mentee could get a range of opinions and views. We concluded with a week of work experience where the student was able to spend planned days in the different departments.
Being a mentor is not onerous and just takes a little bit of planning and imagination. The University scheme helps by placing the onus on the student to think about what they want to achieve. I would encourage as many solicitors as possible who are able to take part to do so as I understand that the number of students wanting to take part in the scheme exceeds the current number of places available.