Create a Mentorship Program to Provide Unique Value to Members
A Spotlight on the Law Society of Alberta’s Mentorship Program
Only 37% of professionals have a mentor (source) even though mentoring is widely believed to be one of the most beneficial things for one’s career and personal development. Sound bad? Maybe. The good news is that your association can create a mentorship program to provide unique value to members.
There is a big unquenched thirst for mentoring. By creating a meaningful and sustainable mentorship program that connects learners with experienced members (mentors) willing to share their expertise, an association can help meet members’ desire for learning—and at the same time meet several other strategic objectives. It’s an all-in-one initiative.
A Key Benefit of Mentorship Programs for an Association
Delivering a mentorship program demonstrates leadership. It also helps strengthen an industry or profession by reinvesting knowledge with next-gen leaders. It boosts careers for learners and has the potential to engage, attract and retain association members of all ages in significant numbers.
If the opportunity is there for your organization, you’re probably wondering about the “how.” Let’s take a look at the Law Society of Alberta as a case study.
The Law Society of Alberta’s Mentorship Program
As the regulator of the legal profession in Alberta, the Law Society of Alberta began offering a mentorship program in 2015. Len Polsky, manager of legal technology and mentorship with the Law Society provides insights in this Q&A style discussion about his organization’s mentorship program. The Society, in fact, operates two complementary programs, which offers participants choices depending on their preferred methods of mentoring and learning.
Q: Why is a mentorship program important to the Law Society of Alberta and its members?
A: The Law Society sees that many new lawyers can find themselves in our disciplinary process because of poor practice management. Lawyers are taught the law in school; they are not taught how to run a law practice. We know many of these lawyers want to do better and benefit from the experience of other lawyers who can offer insight into better business practices. In 2015, Mentor Connect was introduced in direct response to this issue to connect new lawyers with others who are more experienced.
Q: Can you describe the traditional mentorship program you offer?
A: Through Mentor Connect, individual mentees are matched exclusively with individual mentors who volunteer their time. The paired mentors and mentees meet every few weeks and each match lasts six months. With the guidance of their mentor, mentees develop professional skills, knowledge, attributes and capabilities to improve their success and effectiveness as lawyers.
Due to the overwhelming success and growing interest in mentorship, four years later, in 2019, we launched a second and complementary program called Mentor Express. This program allows the Law Society to accommodate even more new lawyers looking to connect with and learn from experienced practitioners.
Both programs are entirely voluntary and free for lawyers in Alberta.
Q: Why was a second mentorship program needed?
A: The second program — Mentor Express — is a non-traditional program based on micro mentoring. Also called episodic 60-minute mentoring, it is facilitated by a web-based service. Our traditional mentorship program, Mentor Connect, was, and continues to be, extremely popular. Within a few years, we had almost 200 participants. You can imagine we were thrilled with the success of the program. However, operating this traditional-style program is time- and resource-intensive, so we had to think of long-term sustainability and how we could meet the growing demand for mentorship opportunities and engage more lawyers while being mindful of our own administrative responsibilities. We didn’t want to let the legal profession down as we know they have come to rely on these great mentorship and networking opportunities. So, in response to the increasing demand for mentorship, we introduced Mentor Express. This program is facilitated by a web-based service provided through Mentorship Rocket, which makes it a user-friendly program that is efficient and seamless for the Law Society to offer to its members.
Q: How does micro-mentoring work?
A: The platform offers an intuitive and inviting user interface that doesn’t require a large learning curve for administrators or participants. Mentees select multiple mentors, based on topics of interest and mentor expertise. Mentees reserve hour-long sessions with mentors directly within our Mentor Express program. It’s that easy.
Q: While the inaugural annual edition of Mentor Express was underway, the Law Society conducted research among lawyers and law school graduates in Alberta. What did the research results tell you?
A: In 2019, the Law Society of Alberta, along with the law societies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, conducted two articling surveys: one with articling students and the other with principals, mentors and recruiters. One of our goals was to better understand the structure of articles, the types of training and mentoring articling students are receiving and how prepared students feel to practice law. The survey results revealed there were challenges reported with mentorship and feedback. Articling students desire convenient and regular access to mentorship and feedback, while principals and mentors mentioned a lack of resources and training in these areas.
The Lawyer Competence Committee, comprised of Law Society Benchers (Board members), worked with well-known legal analyst, Jordan Furlong, on a report of recommendations for lawyer licensing and competence in Alberta. The report was approved in December 2020, and work began immediately to investigate additional mentorship opportunities for sole practitioners and those in early years of practice.
As the Mentor Express platform is designed to offer quick and topic-based mentorship, we knew expanding the program was the answer. It was easy for us to efficiently and affordably scale up Mentor Express in September 2021 to introduce auto-enrollment for all new lawyers being called to the bar.
Q: Earlier you said, “complementary programs.” Please tell us more about that.
A: We know a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work, and lawyers need mentorship opportunities that work for their schedules and needs. Some lawyers appreciate the trust and familiarity of traditional one-to-one mentorship relationships while others prefer more flexibility and casual networking. Some mentees appreciate someone matching them with a suitable mentor while others like to pick their own mentors – even multiple mentors with specific expertise. So, our traditional-style Mentor Connect program and Mentor Express program combine to provide mentors and mentees with options that work for them depending on their preferred methods of mentoring and learning.
Q: How much has mentor and mentee participation grown in Mentor Express from year to year?
A: The number of mentees participating in Mentor Express has risen every year, from 50 in 2019 to 321 today.
The number of mentors has also skyrocketed, from 70 to 304 in that time.
In total, our participation has increased almost six-fold – from 120 to 625 in four years – and the platform accommodated this kind of scaling without a hitch.
Q: When the Law Society launched Mentor Express in 2019, what were your objectives for a web-based solution and why did you choose Mentorship Rocket as the platform for facilitating the program?
A: We researched web-based solutions and found several sophisticated platforms with various price tags. As the regulator of the legal profession, we have a responsibility to be fiscally responsible while still offering quality programs and services to lawyers in Alberta. So, we needed a platform that would meet the needs of our participants, be sustainable and easy to manage as well as align with our budget. Mentorship Rocket was selected as the platform that fit the needs of the Law Society mentorship programs.
For any organization or association looking into creating a mentorship program, Mentorship Rocket is definitely worth taking a look at.
Q: Given the Law Society’s four-year experience with Mentorship Rocket, how would you describe the staff’s experience using the platform and mentors’ and mentees’ experiences as well?
A: Our staff and participants repeatedly tell us how much they enjoy their involvement in the Mentor Express program and enjoy using the platform, which is specifically and uniquely designed to facilitate episodic mentoring.
We have learned from our exit surveys that there is a high degree of satisfaction among participants: 93% would recommend our Mentor Express program to their colleagues.
Q: In conclusion, do you have any opinions or recommendations you like to share with associations regarding the value of microlearning and episodic 60-minute mentoring for today’s learners?
A: The 60-minute mentoring format we use in Mentor Express is hugely successful and has been well-received by the legal profession in Alberta. Entering our fifth year offering micro mentoring, participation has grown from 120 to 625 mentors and mentees, and counting. For any organization looking at how to offer mentorship, I encourage you to look at the Mentorship Rocket platform, regardless of the size of your organization, to see if it’s a fit for you.
One of many examples of the power of mentorship is this Law Society of Alberta case study. We sincerely thank the Law Society of Alberta and Len Polsky, manager of legal technology and mentorship there, for providing insights into their mentorship programs. The Mentorship Rocket team is proud to contribute to their ongoing success.
CSAE members are welcome to participate in CSAE’s mentorship program – as a mentor or a mentee. Click here to learn more.