Why mentoring matters

10th Jan 2023

Carol Nyahasha draws on her own experience to demonstrate the power of personal support in the profession.

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“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own,” Benjamin Disraeli famously said. It’s a sentiment that immediately sprang to mind when I sat down to gather my thoughts about the value of mentoring in our profession.

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Over the years, I have benefited from receiving mentorship from colleagues within and outside the profession who were invested in my personal and career development.

Those relationships made me feel very supported, and through my mentors I was able to better understand how things worked, my place in my firm and the wider profession.

As a mentee, I had people who were willing to stand beside me and provide me with career guidance whenever I needed it.

This meant that as I have progressed through my career I have felt it to be essential to ‘pay it forward’, becoming a mentor in turn.

It was with this background of a positive experience as a mentee and mentor in mind that I joined the Careers in Ideas Task Force.

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Careers in Ideas is an IP Inclusive initiative, created to raise awareness of, and improve access to, IP sector careers whether in trade marks, patents or general IP, in‑house or in industry, or as part of a government body such as the UK IPO.

Careers in Ideas volunteers produce information, resources and events for two key groups: school, college and university students who might want to join the IP professions, along with their advisers; and IP professionals doing outreach work such as career talks and open days.

In the course of our outreach work, we noticed that would‑be entrants into the IP profession experience a particular lack of information and guidance due to many factors, including their socio‑economic background and lack of access.

To address this, I helped start up the Careers in Ideas Mentoring Scheme, with the objective of supporting talented people from groups that are under‑represented in terms of ethnicity, socio‑economic background and disability, or face significant barriers to employment.

The aim is not just that they can enter the IP profession, but that they will thrive in their IP career.

This further serves to make our profession truly reflect and engage with broader society. As I said, I find mentoring rewarding on both a personal and professional level.

Being involved in the Careers in Ideas Mentoring Scheme lifts this to another level. It is particularly heart‑warming to be helping usher in a new generation of practitioners, given that a number of our mentees are either recent graduates or in their final year of studies.

Our current contingent of volunteers includes professionals from across the IP profession – Patent and

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Trade Mark Attorneys, paralegals, trainees, IP solicitors and partners from law or IP departments.

Charlotte Wilding, a Chartered Trade Mark Attorney and Partner at Wedlake Bell, was one of the first to volunteer when the scheme launched in 2021.

Charlotte has been involved in several such schemes in both the mentor and mentee role. For example, as a mentor in the Future Frontiers scheme, she worked with disadvantaged pupils about to finish their GSCEs and looking towards the next stage of their education.

While Charlotte admits that mentoring those who are already in or wanting to enter the profession is much easier than mentoring 13‑ and 14‑year‑olds, she found Future Frontiers a great chance to encourage and support others at a critical point in their life. It also pushed her outside of her comfort zone.

She considers mentoring to be an amazing process that will undoubtedly teach you about yourself, whether you take the role of mentor or mentee.

Over the years, I have found that it is not just mentees who benefit from the mentoring relationship. Mentors get the opportunity to develop their leadership and communication skills, and gain new perspectives and an enhanced sense of meaning in their professional lives.

Being a mentor has helped me hone my interpersonal skills and general knowledge about the IP sector, making me a better mentor and hopefully a better practitioner in the process.

And I passionately believe that every time we learn something new, this fresh knowledge should come along with a sense of duty to pass that knowledge on to someone else.

This is true regardless of what position you hold. Doris Akufo‑Addo, Senior Trade Mark Paralegal at Stobbs IP, agrees with this.

The Careers in Ideas Mentoring Scheme was her first experience as a mentor and she has found that “there is a feel‑good factor” in being a role model and supporter.

“To give back by guiding someone, sharing my wisdom and nurturing their talent is inspirational and a humbling experience,” she says. Her recent mentee, she explains, was a go‑getter with great listening skills who needed assistance on navigating their way towards a firm foothold in IP.

Together, they figured it out, with Doris helping her mentee to reflect and strategise on how to handle contacts. The end result, according to Doris, is that she has seen her mentee blossom and become more confident.

A mentoring scheme does not need to be formal to be beneficial to its participants.

Cherry Shin, a Chartered Trade Mark Attorney at Appleyard Lees LLP, has been involved in three mentoring programmes.

First, an internal mentoring scheme at Appleyard Lees where she was a mentee.

Second, as mentor for Careers in Ideas, and finally as a mentor in her firm’s internal buddy scheme.

Cherry thinks it is important to be open to talking about yourself and your experiences first and foremost as part of the mentoring role.

“By providing an outline of the experiences we have had, mentees may be able to take comfort from the fact that they too can speak about their thoughts.

"However, moving on from there, it is important for the mentee to identify the areas in which they require more guidance. There is so much information mentors can give, but it is important to be aware of what the mentee wants to learn and can benefit from.”

As a mentee, Cherry found it helpful to have her mentor check in from time to time. This made her feel like she was looked after and that the onus was not only on her to initiate opportunities to receive guidance.

Having also had a mentor who made the experience more informal, she was able to see mentoring as a kind of conversation, rather than always being a strictly structured programme.

Informal mentoring helps employees grow and employers retain critical talent and is a fantastic way to keep people motivated and feeling valued.

For example, Cherry supports trainees at her current firm by providing them with help before their exams and by leading revision sessions outside of work hours.

If mentoring offers personal satisfaction, there’s no doubt that it also benefits our profession as a whole. Doris believes that transferring knowledge, giving back and empowering new entrants helps to grow the profile of the profession.

Cherry, like me, has a particular interest in widening the diversity pool within the field of IP. She feels that mentoring is an opportunity to guide mentees into a trade mark career path that they may not be at all aware of.

Conversely, she has also helped mentees to learn that a route may not be for them.

As a paralegal, Doris also thinks that she is able to help would‑be recruits see the IP profession in its entirety – as a spectrum from fee‑earners to support professionals – and to demonstrate that there are many unique roles available.

By now, it will come as no surprise that I would urge all readers to consider mentoring and decision‑makers to set up or encourage some form of mentoring for their staff if their firm does not already do so.

But perhaps Charlotte sums it up best when she says: “Helping another person to find their own path and success is not only satisfying but also exciting.

"Likewise, as a mentee, I have found the process helpful in clarifying exactly what steps I needed to take to go forward – and to understand that while the best‑laid plans may not always work, there are always other options.

"I find the role of the mentor is to take a step back and really help the mentee look at both the broader picture and the smaller details that make each step towards an end goal possible.”

Find out more about the Careers in Ideas Mentoring Scheme here.

Following an indication of demand for a mentoring scheme in the recent membership survey, CITMA is actively looking at the feasibility and how best to run a mentoring scheme for CITMA members.

What users say about the Careers in Ideas Mentoring Scheme

“The scheme proved to be invaluable and worthwhile in every way.

Particularly, it opened my understanding to the fact that relatability can create a strong bond between a mentor and mentee. Sharing experiences and lessons also takes away feelings of isolation.

From the scheme, I have acquired amazing advice and developed my interview and presentation skills. I have also learned to be patient, persevere and maintain a positive outlook regardless of the challenges in my IP journey.

Above all, I have learned to be confident, refuse to fall victim to social prejudices and the importance of remaining visible even beyond my comfort level.”

– LLM graduate and aspiring Chartered Trade Mark Attorney

“I would recommend the mentoring scheme as it provides practical guidance on what it realistically means to be a trade mark lawyer.

My mentor helped me develop a rounded understanding of trade mark law. In providing commercial examples she improved my understanding of how trade mark law influences and guides major commercial decisions.

My mentor’s friendly and down-to-earth demeanour promotes a welcome environment in which any questions can be asked.

I now have a better understanding of what it takes to be a trade mark solicitor. I have also improved my understanding more generally about the industry and career as a whole.”

– Law graduate and aspiring IP solicitor

“My mentor is really thoughtful and approachable. She understands the hurdles that I face as an international candidate fresh out of university.

We have been in constant contact during the past few months and our topics covered not just career planning and interview preparations, but also cultural and linguistic nuances that we have both encountered in different countries.

Through our conversations, I have discovered my own unique selling points, which I may never have realised without such an initiative.

She also arranged work experience for me: I gained insights into the daily life of a Trade Mark Attorney and also made friends at the firm.

After the experience, I got more and more interviews and developed confidence in each, while adopting a stoic attitude towards rejections.

Eventually, I managed to get my current role! I would recommend that anyone who has difficulties on their career route find a mentor with a similar background. Meaningful connections can really ignite sparks of passion and wisdom.

But remember that it is down to you, the mentee, to keep driving the mentoring relationship forward. Make sure to set out from the outset how you expect it to work, and how you will monitor progress and meet relevant targets.”

– Law graduate and aspiring Trade Mark Attorney

Setting up a mentoring scheme: Carol’s top five tips

1. Get support from stakeholders

The Careers in Ideas Mentoring Scheme would never have been possible had it not been for the support of Andrea Brewster, Chief Executive of IP Inclusive, and the Careers in Ideas team lead Chris Burnett (Birkett Long LLP). Set your ideas and goals in a clear, concise format and make it easy for decision-makers to see the potential benefits of the scheme.

2. Be clear about your goals

You cannot be everything to everyone so focusing on a particular challenge will result in a mentoring scheme that benefits those who take part. For example, you might want to help your trainee Trade Mark Attorneys better understand their role in the firm and what is expected of them, or perhaps you want to mentor senior staff who wish to take the partnership route.

3. Get the right volunteers on board

This goes hand in hand with the last point, as your mentors need to be aligned with what you are trying to achieve for your mentees. You also need to make it clear what the time commitments will be.

4. Offer training and support to both mentors and mentees

This should be provided before the scheme starts. While there is a willingness to participate in mentorships, some participants need guidance on how to handle elements of the mentorship, for example, meetings, setting boundaries for the mentoring relationship, and how to be a good and effective mentor or mentee.

5. Support your scheme

Ensure that there is a dedicated admin function that will see through the running of the scheme, including overseeing appropriate training and matching of participants. After all, your volunteers will all have ‘day jobs’. At Careers in Ideas we opted to use an online platform, which takes away a considerable proportion of the admin burden.