- Amy Cox, Vice Chair and Head of Mentoring
When Women in Criminal Law launched in 2018 - with a fabulous turnout of people that even a snowstorm couldn’t keep away (in the words of our Founder and Chair Katy Thorne QC – it takes more than mere snow to stop us women!) - I stood on the stage, welcomed everyone, and said a few words about our idea for a mentoring scheme.
Two years on, the mentoring scheme has become a force to be reckoned with, and is central to the work of WICL. We have hosted a mentoring evening with advice and tips from mentoring expert Emily Cosgrove at The Conversation Space and four hugely successful mentoring breakfast events with speakers including HHJ Wendy Joseph. The WICL mentoring team has matched over 70 one-to-one mentoring pairs, and with assistance and advice from The Hon. Mrs Justice Bobbie Cheema Grubb, who was instrumental in designing the scheme, has created nine Judicial Mentoring Circles.
The idea of mentoring initially was to match one woman with another who was perhaps one or two steps ahead of her on her career path: a trainee with a newly qualified solicitor, a pupil barrister with a new tenant, a senior barrister with a QC. We didn’t want to be too prescriptive as to how the mentoring relationships would work and wanted the pairs to do what worked for them. Some pairs met once or twice in order to work towards a specific career goal such as a training contract or pupillage application, a promotion or an application for silk. Others have formed long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships. We would not be able to make any mentoring matches without the selfless commitment of our mentors willing to give up their time, share their experiences, and perhaps allow other women to learn from their mistakes.
In reading the requests for mentors, I’ve seen great ambition within women, and with a mentor’s support and assistance have witnessed women achieving their goals. We have one mentor who has helped no less than three women through the pupillage application process, with ALL THREE being successful in their applications. The other side has been reading about the struggles of our members, whether it be gaining promotion, breaking into other practice areas usually dominated by men, or balancing work and family life. We’ve had some tear jerkers and it’s been an absolute pleasure to be able to offer those women support to help them move forwards.
Many WICL members tell us that they suffer with imposter syndrome. I could certainly relate to that when I went to the Royal Courts of Justice with Katy Thorne QC in order to meet Bobbie Cheema-Grubb for coffee to discuss the idea of judicial mentoring circles – I don’t even drink coffee, and how do I address The Hon. Mrs Justice Bobbie Cheema Grubb?! I needn’t have worried; she could not have been more welcoming, or generous with her time and advice.
There is a misconception that the Judicial Circles are only for people wanting to become judges. This isn’t the sole aim of the scheme, although I’m sure it’s hugely helpful for those who do. The groups offer circular mentoring, because we take the view that everyone, no matter what stage you are at in your career, can learn from others.
The groups are formed of five women – including solicitors and barristers, for the defence and prosecution, at different firms and chambers, and at different stages in their careers. Each group has found their own way, whether they meet for breakfast, after work, and for an hour or two, or a full evening of wine. During lockdown, which we know has been particularly hard for some women, our circles have taken to meeting via zoom – adding the odd little one to their circles!
Hearing a circle described as a ‘safe space’ is fantastic - we want women to be able to talk freely about anything; perhaps their aspirations to move firm or chambers, applying for promotion within their own firm, taking a break or changing direction, and any concerns they have. Most importantly, we want women to talk freely without fear of judgement or comment from peers at their own firm or chambers, friends who don’t understand the industry they work in, family who don’t understand why you don’t ‘just go for it’. The groups are about supporting and encouraging each other, becoming friends with others who have a completely impartial view on your life, will hear everything you have to say with no preconceived ideas or perceptions and will offer you advice, and if needed build your confidence. The icing on the top of the cake is that you’re not only receiving that advice and support from other women in the profession but also a judge who will tell you about her path, and in my experience that alone is truly inspirational.
We at WICL are enormously proud of the mentoring scheme, and we want to make sure that we support as many of our members as we can. If you would like to get involved, please get in touch with us at email@example.com. If you’re not sure if or how mentoring could help you, or whether you could be a suitable mentor for someone else (REMEMBER, you can be both!), get in touch for a chat about what might work for you. Finally, please spread the word to your fabulous women colleagues who might need that extra boost.
For all the info on WICL Mentoring, please visit: www.womenincriminallaw.com/mentoring