The majority of law firms have a taken mentoring on board and for a lot of firms having a mentoring scheme is now becoming the norm. However, a lot of firms still don’t encourage sponsorship. Mentoring yes, sponsorship no. There should be more sponsorship.
What is sponsorship? Like a mentor a sponsor can advise you, but their primary role is to develop you and prime you for promotion to partnership by helping develop the skills you need. Sponsors take positive action and help you up the ladder opening doors to opportunities.
Both mentors and sponsors play a role in supporting you and helping you achieve your goals. But it is for you to do the work. It is my view that there needs to be more sponsorship to overcome diversity barriers. Sponsors have a direct ability to give you opportunities. Usually mentors can only advise on how you can maximise an opportunity when it presents itself. Of course, that is not to say that a mentor cannot be in a position to give you opportunities, but this is not their role.
How can you get a sponsor?
Moving up involves much more than just a strong work ethic and an ability to perform. You also have to be visible and make yourself know to potential sponsors/people with power. Informally, you will probably have a few hidden sponsors, people (often partners) who will advocate for you, recommend you for work, sing your praises, put you forward for projects. These hidden sponsors can be transformed into more active sponsors with some work. For this to work you will need to actively make an effort to build relationships and prove your value internally. A large part of this involves internal networking and helping people become aware of you, what you do and your contributions to the team. Only then can they act as an informal or even a more formal sponsor on your behalf to help the right people recognise your hard work.
A sponsor will often be putting their reputation on the line to back you. They have to want to do this and you need to inspire them to want to do this and build up a relationship of trust with them.
If you ultimately want to become a partner or legal director one day, you will need to have the support and backing of the partnership, having a mentor or sponsor within the partnership can help you with this process.
Once you have build up your reputation and established yourself you will then need to ask for help/be clear about what you want. People need to know where you want to go and what they can help you with before they can offer to help.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get.