FACL boosting its mentor opportunities

In the legal profession, there are plenty of protégés, but finding mentors can be another matter.

When the first Law Society of Upper Canada early career roundtable meetings kicked off late last fall at Osgoode Hall, welcoming about 20 lawyers and paralegals in their first 10 years of service to guide the future of their profession, the first issue they tackled was the lack of mentors in the industry.

That first meeting set the table for providing input on the needs of the younger professional in 2016, and while they address those concerns this year the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers continues to grapple with the issue of mentorship as well.

One solution the not-for-profit organization came up with a few years ago was a mentor-a-thon. Last year it drew more than 120 participants. Tushara Weerasooriya, FACL mentorship committee chairwoman, says racialized students and young professionals can face barriers to the profession after their call to the bar and often find it challenging to find avenues to grow their careers.

“Racialized licensees lack traditional mentorship and that’s a barrier to their progress, so we see it as a two-pronged problem,” she says. “There’s the barrier to the entry point — getting those law students jobs — and the second problem is the barriers to career enhancement.”

Weerasooriya, counsel in McMillan LLP’s restructuring and insolvency group, says that while it can be difficult across the profession to place mentors with young lawyers, it can be even more difficult for racialized licensees and students.

The FACL mentor-a-thon is specifically geared toward pairing up articling students and new lawyers with professionals one to five years after their call to the bar. Weerasooriya says the one-to-five-year call professional is best positioned to offer advice to students on the application process and how to make professional contacts.

“Our communities are for the most part new to Canada and many of the students we see are the children of immigrants so they’re not necessarily as well connected to the business community in Toronto, and we see that as a fundamental barrier to being successful in the legal community,” Weerasooriya says. “There aren’t that many practitioners that are from these communities.”

That translates into a lack of mentors as well, so the FACL is hoping this year’s event might draw some new mentor candidates.

“We won’t run out of mentees, but finding the mentors is important,” Weerasooriya says.

The organization is also preparing to launch a pilot project later this spring geared toward connecting professionals two to four years out with those who are closer to 10 years after their call. The program will include workshops and events to provide networking opportunities and advice for advancing in the profession. Information for both initiatives will be posted on the FACL web site.

Next week, registration will open for the Feb. 26 mentor-a-thon, to be hosted at the Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP offices in Toronto.

“A big thing to remember is mentorship goes both ways: It’s a very rewarding experience, it’s a great opportunity to take stock of your own career, take stock of your own experience, and pass on the lessons you’ve learned to somebody else who is usually very enthusiastic, excited, determined, and ambitious,” Weerasooriya says.

“Nobody makes it on their own — we’ve all learned from somebody and I think it’s part of our duty as lawyers to help the next generation become successful.”

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