Justice Week, with its focus on promoting the values of justice and the rule of law, provides an opportunity for us in the profession to reflect on and share our own experiences, and shine a light on some fundamental principles.  

One way in which the profession can champion these values and provide vital legal education and support is through mentoring. Some of us at one time or another have had a mentor, be that through some formal scheme, or someone who took us under their wing and helped us to set and achieve our goals.

My own experience was in the latter category; my mentor was a more senior colleague during a job I had before coming to the Bar. The principal benefit of this relationship for me was having someone experienced and candid enough to point out my strengths (of which I was mostly oblivious) and weaknesses (likewise) at work. My mentor also taught me how to harness those strengths and develop those weaknesses on the path to the legal career that I aspired to at the time. I still carry many of the lessons I learnt from that relationship, and my mentor and I still arrange to meet for an annual drink to catch up.

Mentoring opportunities at the Bar have proliferated over recent years, particularly and crucially for the benefit of groups underrepresented in the profession. This is good news in an otherwise challenging outlook for the Bar at present, and I hope that these programmes will continue to expand and go from strength to strength.

Mentoring is vitally important in upskilling, educating and attracting aspiring barristers to a profession that doesn’t always do the best job of telling the world about what we do and why we love doing it. I am pleased that this is an arena into which the Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) is now stepping.

Next month, the YBC will be launching ‘Skills for Law and Success’, a pilot mentoring scheme in partnership with the Kalisher Trust. The scheme will match young barristers with students aged 16 to 18 at the Harris Academy in London. The goals of the scheme include –

  • Providing an insight into life as a barrister and the skills needed to succeed at the Bar
  • Developing mentees skills and confidence
  • Increasing understanding of legal and governmental institutions and how they function
  • Building positive relationships between young barrister mentors and Harris Academy mentees.

The programme will take place over five sessions and will include a visit to the Old Bailey, performance of an oral advocacy task at the Supreme Court, a session with the Law Officers, and a visit to the Government Legal Department. It will also include plenty of time spent with our young barrister mentors so there is time to share experiences, wisdom and pathways into the profession.

The Kalisher Trust, set up in 1996, aims to encourage and inspire young people of ability, commitment, and ambition to achieve their potential through the development of advocacy skills and participation in other programmes with the goal of a career at the criminal Bar.

From the YBC’s perspective the values and mission of Kalisher made the organisation an ideal partner for launching a mentoring initiative, and we are delighted to be working with them.

As well as providing an enjoyable and informative experience for the mentees at Harris Academy, we thoroughly hope that the young barrister mentors will also see this as an important development opportunity and, at a point in their professional lives where time may be at a premium, will find this to be a valuable and enriching experience from which they can also learn. We hope the pilot will be a success and we intend to continue this initiative into 2023 and beyond.

The YBC is involved in various activities in support of the Young Bar, the work includes taking part in feedback and work linked to the Criminal Legal Aid Independent Review (CLAIR); promoting the Bar Council’s work on Ukraine; working with the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks around fair allocation of work; representing the Young Bar of England and Wales in discussions and events with international partners; tackling bullying and harassment at the Bar; and supporting initiatives that help to improve the wellbeing of young barristers.

If you want to find out more about this work or get involved, please email: ybc@barcouncil.org.uk

I hope you have a great Justice Week 2022 and wish you all the best.

Michael Harwood, Vice Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee