Junior secretaries are a fantastic resource to have in your firm and if you have the opportunity to mentor and coach a junior, their enthusiasm can rejuvenate your satisfaction for your own position. Mentoring can be a rewarding piece to add to your CV, but how do you successfully mentor your junior and ensure that they and you get the most of their role?
Working with a junior will differ slightly depending on the size of firm you are employed by. If you are working for a medium to large sized firm, your junior will have completed a tailored induction making them comfortable with your firm’s systems and processes by the time they hit the practice group floor,. If you are working in a small firm, it is likely that you will have less internal resources available to you. However, no matter which size of firm you work in, as their mentor, how do you ensure they are set up for success when they settle in to the desk next to you?
What's your role?
The role of a mentor is to support the junior in a professional capacity; assisting with and overseeing their workflow, day to day tasks and helping them understand and settle into the corporate culture.
In a small office environment it’s best to stick to tasks that promote responsibility whilst gaining an understanding of how the firm runs. Tasks such as collecting the mail, distributing throughout the office and being responsible for banking any cheques are a good start to giving your junior some responsibility and ownership in their role.
If you haven’t mentored before don’t underestimate how much time you will need to dedicate to your junior. Not only will you need to manage your own work you will be overseeing the workflow of another which will take up a large portion of your day. Their success will reflect on you, but how do you set them up for success?
Know that everyone learns differently. Don’t expect your junior to understand tasks just by watching you do them. You need to ensure that tasks are shown in various formats and explained in different ways. If you have a new task for the junior, ask them to do the task firstly with you. Complete the task in a slow and methodical way, explaining each step to them. Encourage them to take notes during the task as a reference point and when the task is completed, allow time for questions.
It’s important that they understand what the task is, why they have been asked to do it and how it fits into the grand scheme of their job and the lawyers they are supporting. The next time this task comes up, ask the junior to complete the task themselves and explain that you will check before submission. Allow for more time than normal as they will take longer to complete than yourself.
Remind them to refer to their notes and let them know that you are available for questions if they are uncertain. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask them how they learn best.
As a junior, they will make mistakes. This is all a part of learning and if you think back to your first job, it can be hard making mistakes. How you deal with the mistake is just as important to both the juniors development and your development as a mentor.
If your junior has made a mistake (especially if it has impacted on lawyer’s workflow) it needs to be addressed straight away, in a delicate yet conversational manner. If they are aware they have made a mistake, you needn’t make a big song and dance about it.
Explain what the mistake was and the impact that it has had on the lawyer, the client (if involved), you, their mentor and them as a junior. It is important that they understand the ramifications of their mistake and important for you to understand why the mistake was made. Were they rushing though a task? Did they not understand what was required from the instructions you gave? Did they not complete all steps of the process?
Whatever the mistake was, like all mistakes they are a learning experience. I live by the mantra - you make a mistake then you resolve the mistake. You learn from it and don’t let it happen again.
Take them through the correct process (again, encouraging note taking) and ensure that you give them the opportunity to ask questions.
A mentor should always encourage and motivate their juniors during their placement. It can be a hard adjustment heading into the corporate environment for the first time; something that a lot of us forget when we have been working for a while.
We all have days when we are discouraged or struggling to find love in our work. It is a good thing to lead by example and show your junior that you are human too. If you find your junior feels discouraged with their work, remind them of what you enjoy about your job, whether that be the excitement of working in a busy, fast paced law firm or the pleasure of assisting busy lawyers close a deal. If that doesn’t work (and some days, it won’t) take them out for a coffee and just have a general chat about anything but work. It’s amazing how a break from routine can rejuvenate and motivate.
Being in a law firm is not all about work so encourage your junior to get involved in activities within your firm such as team sports, attending social activities and any volunteer programmes your firm may have. If these sort of things aren’t on offer at your firm, you’re going to need to take the initiative yourself to make sure this junior stays engaged with the firm and their work. Perhaps by speaking to the Principal to see if you could be set a monthly budget to take her to lunch? It doesn’t need to be big. $25 should buy you both lunch at a café which is a far cheaper cost than having to replace the role if they decide to leave.
It's all about helping your junior develop a balance in their corporate world (something that even the most senior secretaries still struggle with).
At the end of the day, mentoring a junior can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience and just like the junior, as a mentor, you will learn a lot.