Ahead of the WLANSW 70th Anniversary Gala Dinner, we spoke with NSW Mentor of the Year 2021, Rebecca Hegarty. Rebecca is passionate about supporting young lawyers in the profession, and her commitment to assisting other women on their journey has made her highly valued by those she mentors. Rebecca talked with us about what sparked her passion for mentoring and the challenges she faces in her role as a principal lawyer at Coleman Greig Lawyers. She also shared some valuable advice for other lawyers that might be interested in mentoring.
In your current role as the head of commercial advice at Coleman Greig Lawyers, you lead and manage a team of lawyers. What are some of the common challenges you face in this leadership role?
One of my biggest challenges is the lack of time. I am very protective of my team, and I always try to make sure that they are happy with what they do and comfortable reaching out to me if they have any problems. But at the same time as supporting my team, I need to find the time to focus on my own work. I believe that time will always be challenging. The more responsibilities you have, the more difficult it will be to allocate your time.
The second challenge is to build rapport with my team members. I think it's essential to build strong relationships because I want them to feel safe to come to me and ask questions - even though it's not necessarily a legal problem. Maybe your team member needs guidance on how to handle a particular situation with another colleague or advice on how to best approach a sensitive situation with a client? However, I'm also aware that personalities are different. We have other principals in our team, so I'm always pleased when people go to someone with whom they also have a good relationship.
Guiding and mentoring women lawyers and law students is clearly something you are passionate about. How did you discover this passion?
I think I can relate to a lot of the feelings and challenges that my mentees encounter. I remember the challenges of being a law student and a young lawyer. Coming from a non-legal background, I often didn't have anyone I could turn to for guidance. When my daughter decided to study law, and I heard about her experiences, it also resonated with me. These experiences built my passion for mentoring. I wanted to make sure the experience for my daughter - and others - was a good one.
The desire to help people and offer solutions - if I can - comes very naturally to me.
It's also part of my personality to give back and help people. The desire to help and offer solutions - if I can - comes very naturally to me. And I get to use these traits at Coleman Greig, where we have a fantastic cadetship program. The program is open for first-year law students, and they stay with us for a rotation period of five years of their degree. During this time, they have the chance to experience all the firm's different facets, get a taste for what the firm does and the various areas of law they may choose to practice in. They also have the opportunity to work with a whole range of people and learn skills as they go along. This is an excellent opportunity to mentor the students, and often a number of those students end up as lawyers at the firm. It's always very satisfying to look back and see how far they've come.
For me, a significant motivating factor is realising that law is not for everybody. But even though not everyone will stay in the profession, at least I can help my mentees navigate its challenges and help them make their own conclusion about whether the law is the right career for them.
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It is said that mentoring is good for the soul. How has mentoring enriched your personal and professional life?
Mentoring younger lawyers has taught me a lot about patience and relationship-building. It has also allowed me to give back - which really motivates and drives me.
I see cadets coming through our mentorship program, all wide-eyed and enthusiastic, and I feel privileged to be able to nurture them and be part of their journey. Hopefully, I'll be one of the people they look back at fondly and think, "that person really made a difference". In my opinion, that is one of the most satisfying parts of being a mentor, supporting someone that is just at the beginning of their career.
Mentoring younger lawyers has taught me a lot about patience and relationship-building.
There are probably many lawyers who are interested in mentoring others but are not sure how to get started. Can you give three practical pieces of advice to lawyers who are keen to take on a mentoring role in their firm or organisation?
I don't believe in taking something on if I can't give 100%, so my first piece of advice would be to really commit. If you go into it half-heartedly, there is no point.
I would also suggest looking at what your firm already offers. Maybe they have a formal mentoring program, or they might be doing it in an informal sense? If your firm has an informal approach, is there a way to make it more structured? It's important to remember that mentoring programs can take many shapes and forms. If it's an organised program you're after, but your firm does not offer this, I'd look to the law societies. There are many great mentoring programs out there.
I also think it's important not to make it too complicated. If you have someone in your team that has approached you and asked to be mentored by you, the first step might be as easy as setting up regular coffee catch-ups. From there, you can get them to articulate what they are looking to learn and what goals they have. This way, the mentee has to think about what they want to get out of the meetings - besides a really great coffee.
...it might be as easy as setting up regular catch-ups over a cup of coffee.
My final advice is to be open to the experience and learnings and remember that people often connect through identifying with your experiences. It might be that you reveal a "war story," or if your mentee comes to you with a problem, you can give an example of a similar experience you've had and how you've dealt with it.
And what advice can you give to young lawyers searching for a mentor?
First, I’d advise people to build relationships with people in the legal space. Why not go on LinkedIn and connect with people? People are often happy to chat and strike up a connection with you. By building a relationship via LinkedIn, you can easily see what the person is doing, if you have similar interests and if this is a person you can learn from. Alternatively, you can research and see what the law societies or women lawyers associations offer in terms of mentorship programs. Some fabulous programs are available, such as the Lucy Mentoring Program, but you have to put your hand up for it. When searching for a mentor, you have to take the initiative rather than wait for someone to come to you.
Secondly, remember that you don't need to confine yourself to one program or mentor - it's actually good to have a few! They may all meet different needs and provide you with different perspectives. Eventually, you'll have a great circle of people around you supporting your journey.
My second advice is not to confine yourself to one program or mentor - it's actually good to have a few!
My third piece of advice is to think about what you want to get out of a mentor/mentee relationship. What are your goals? What kind of lawyer do you want to be? What is it that you want to achieve?
To finish up, we've got three quick questions for you which we ask all of our leaders in law interviewees:
- What’s your favourite way to wind down? I like to read anything that is non-law related. Before the pandemic, I loved to travel - it's good for the mind and opens you up to new experiences. Retail therapy also works!
- What’s one thing you would tell your 15-year-old self? I would tell her to enjoy every moment - time goes by in a flash, so savour every minute. I would urge her to find something that she loves doing. You’re going to do it every day, so you might as well get joy out of it.
- And last but not least, are you a cat person or a dog person? I'm a 100% dog person. Dogs are friendly and loving. Cats slightly scare me.