How To Successfully Mentor A Junior Secretary

14 July 2022 Alessyn Hecht

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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.

Working with a junior will differ slightly depending on the size of your employer. 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. 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.

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?

  1. Don’t underestimate how much time you will need to dedicate to your junior in the first three months. 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. Plan training and 'shadowing' time in to each day and week and remember that it will save you time in the long run once they build confidence.

  2. Know that everyone learns differently. Don’t expect your junior to understand tasks just by watching you do them. Ask them how they learn best and take this into account when coaching them. 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. They next time this task comes up, ask the junior to complete the task themselves and explain that you will check before submission. Allow 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.

  3. Accept that they will make mistakes. This is all a part of learning. 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 their development as well as 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.

  4. Take the time to encourage and motivate them! 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 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.

  5. Being in a law firm is not all about work. 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. Perhaps by speaking to the Principal to see if you could be set a monthly budget to take them to lunch? It doesn’t need to be big. A monthly lunch at a café is far a cheaper cost than replacing them if they decide to leave. It’s all about helping your junior engage with the firm and develop a balance in their corporate world (something that even the most senior secretaries still struggle with).

Junior secretaries are a fantastic resource to have in your firm. If you have the opportunity to mentor and coach a junior, their enthusiasm can rejuvenate your satisfaction for your own position. At the end of the day, you may learn and grow as much as they do!

Contributed by Juliette Drummond, Human Resources Professional

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