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Reverse mentoring project

LawCare are pleased to be embarking on a new collaborative research venture with the University of Leeds (funded by the Michael Beverley Innovation scheme).

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This scheme will see aspiring law students and current trainees/junior lawyers from a range of minoritised and under-represented backgrounds mentoring those responsible for trainee recruitment and organisational wellbeing within participant law firms. This will be one of the first research projects to empirically explore the impact of reverse mentoring in this context.

A key aim of the pilot project we are developing is to spark meaningful conversation in the profession around the connections between diversity, inclusion and wellbeing, We intend its outcomes to support the development of training for junior lawyers to better embed positive wellness and inclusion practices, addressing challenges such as turnover rates, lawyers’ mental health and supporting firms to develop their ‘USP’ for trainees and future employees. We also intend for the pilot project to impact the sector beyond the firms involved through the publication of our research findings and a reverse mentoring toolkit for the profession.

In November and December 2022, Rachael O’Connor (University of Leeds) and Trish McLellan, Lucinda Soon and Kayleigh Leonie (LawCare) ran a series of roundtables with students, junior lawyers and senior leaders in the profession to discuss issues relating to wellbeing, inclusion and reverse mentoring in order to further develop the project design. The pilot reverse mentoring project will run in 2023.

It’s been great to see, through our roundtable discussions in the last few weeks, how invested members of our profession at both junior and senior levels are in improving wellbeing and inclusion challenges pervading the sector. We hope this pilot project will make a positive contribution to what are extremely complex challenges and be a catalyst for further action and changes in the profession.

Rachael O’Connor

LawCare is the mental wellbeing charity for the legal profession. Our research study Life in the Law was the first of its kind in this country, it looked at mental health and wellbeing in the legal profession and over 1,700 professionals took part.

What we found was no surprise. Legal professionals are at a high risk of burnout and the vast majority had had recent periods of mental ill-health with stress, anxiety and depression common. Juniors, women, those from ethnic minority groups and people with a disability are at a greater risk of burn out.

The research also supported our view that wellbeing in the profession is a collective responsibility for legal workplaces, regulators, professional bodies and educators.

To change the culture in law we need a sector-wide commitment to develop an industry and a legal system where people are valued, respected and supported to be the best they can be

We see the Life in the Law research as a starting point, a catalyst for change in the profession. Culture change isn’t something that happens overnight; it takes time, collaboration and innovation and, most importantly, shared core values across the legal community that prioritise wellbeing and a commonly held sense of why these matter.

What these findings emphasize is that there is a need for nuanced and reflective dialogue and discussion around lawyer wellbeing, to ensure all voices are heard and acknowledged which is why we feel this exciting project is so important.

We are determined to make the law a healthier, happier place to work, and we need you to join us on this journey. If you need support contact our helpline on 0800 279 6888, email [email protected] or access online chat and other resources at www.lawcare.org.uk

It’s an absolute privilege to be partnering with LawCare on this project and a fantastic opportunity to take my expertise on reverse mentoring in higher education settings into a profession I care deeply about as a former practicing lawyer and now as an academic working with many aspiring lawyers.

Rachael O’Connor

Rachael O’Connor is a Lecturer, Director of Student Support and Academic Personal Tutor Lead in the School of Law, University of Leeds. Prior to her academic career, Rachael was a corporate tax solicitor at Pinsent Masons LLP. Rachael comes from a working class background and was the first generation in her family to attend University. This has contributed towards Rachael’s passion for improving experiences for students and junior lawyers who self-identify as under-represented.

The focus of Rachael’s research is developing authentic relationships and improving belonging and wellness through reverse mentoring. She is currently undertaking a three year fellowship on reverse mentoring with the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE) and recently became a Michael Beverley Innovation Fellow via which she is pursuing this reverse mentoring project within the legal profession. She has won a University Teaching Award and the Stan Marsh Prize for Best Paper at the Association of Law Teachers Conference for her reverse mentoring work.

Read Rachael’s latest article here and read more on the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence project page here

In my view, positive reverse mentoring should be centred around the empowerment and development of the junior mentors, supporting them to feel heard and to have influence in the workplace – to feel and know that they matter as individuals. It’s also important for this work to have visible impact and by targeting those in leadership roles relating to wellbeing, inclusion and training as mentees, we seek to increase the likelihood of such impact and sustainable change. It’s been great to see through our roundtable discussions in the last few weeks how invested members of our profession at both junior and senior levels are in improving wellbeing and inclusion challenges pervading the sector.

Rachael O’Connor

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