The Society of Visually Impaired Lawyers

Student Mentoring Scheme

Whether you want to be a solicitor or barrister, or to take on more work of a legal character with your current employers or voluntary organisation, or even if you're a law student weighing up your legal career options, you face a challenging task ahead. Lawyers face demanding and tough requirements from the outset of the recruitment process right the way through to retirement; and on top of that, you've the issues presented by your visual impairment to contend with.

It is quite natural to feel apprehensive or even daunted faced with this prospect, but the SoVIL Student Mentoring Scheme is here to show you that there is no need to be. In fact, our aim is to demonstrate that there is no reason why you shouldn't be able to achieve what you want to from your legal work.

We want to help as many would-be visually impaired lawyers (including those of you who volunteer or who aren't actual lawyers but who carry out a substantial amount of legal work) to get round the problems posed by a visual impairment. We therefore set out below some more information about the mentoring scheme and what it can offer. This guidance is in the form of answers to what we anticipate will be common questions, but if there is anything we haven't covered don't hesitate to contact us.

1. Who is the mentoring scheme for?

The mentoring scheme is for you if you think you need it. Although we expand on this below, there really isn't much more to it than that.

If you are intending to practise law as a professional, our advice is that you get involved as soon as possible after starting your higher education. That way your mentor can guide you through the process from a very early stage. Having said that, you might feel that you don't need any mentoring help until you've actually started the LPC or BPTC, which is fine – how you manage is very much an individual's choice. Where almost everyone who participates gets good use out of the mentoring scheme, though, is when they are about to start either as a trainee or pupil so if you feel that the mentoring scheme is for you and you haven't joined by the end of your LPC or BPTC, we strongly recommend that you join now.

If you are in employment and your employer has asked you to do some legal work, such as represent your organisation at an employment tribunal, we have mentors who are willing to provide help and advice on this basis. Likewise if you are planning to do some voluntary work in your local Citizens Advice, we can help you.

If you are already a practitioner but with seriously deteriorating vision, your situation lies outside the province of the mentoring scheme. However, whilst this mentoring scheme is not designed with you in mind, SoVIL most definitely can help. There is a wealth of experience for you to draw upon from the SoVIL membership, so do contact us.

2. What do I get from the mentoring scheme?

We aim to pair up mentor and mentee on the basis of what they are aiming to do. So if you want to be a barrister, or think you want to be a barrister, you will be paired up with a barrister and so on. So that your mentor will probably have experienced all the worries and difficulties you are experiencing and will be able to appreciate them. Your mentor will be able to offer advice on how to access course materials at university or on the GDL, LPC or BPTC as needed. Typical questions mentors are asked in this regard include: "How do I find all the resources I need to complete reading lists?", "What questions do I need to ask my course provider before beginning my professional course and what should I make sure is put in place?", "how should I approach the visual impairment issue in applications for the LPC or BPTC or GDL?" and so on. We are also able to answer the specific practical questions that those of you who are studying abroad for one or two years of your law degree may have.

Your mentor will be able to offer advice on dealing with practical issues presented by professional life. Typical questions mentors are asked include: "how will I cope with reading papers fast enough in practice?", "What equipment do I need to get put in place?", "Do I need a personal assistant?", "how will I cope in court?" and so on.

Your mentor may be able to help in ways that you would expect from your usual mentoring scheme, such as tips for CV preparation and mock interviews. As this is not the primary aim of the SoVIL scheme, however, individual mentors may not feel able to give you this help. If that is the case, don't worry as they will point you in the direction of another mentor who can or, if more appropriate, another source of such help such as the various inns of court.

Your mentor will act as a sounding board for other study or professional issues that may arise, and will help with them if possible.

3. Is there anything the mentoring scheme will not help me with?

Yes. We are there primarily to help you with issues presented by your visual impairment, but we are not there to give you an unfair advantage over your sighted peers. So you cannot expect your mentor to do you a favour and give you a mini-pupillage, or lobby on your behalf for you to be given a training contract or pupillage. Nor will your mentor always feel able to give mock interviews as explained above. We can advise on completion of applications, but beyond that you will need to sell yourself for vacation schemes, mini-pupillages or professional training just as everyone else has to. You should also bear in mind that your mentor should not be treated as a substitute for other classes or workshops; presentations by law firms, careers days at the Inns of Court, mooting and advocacy workshops are as useful to you as they are to sighted people and you should attend them and make the most of them. If any adjustments need to be made within such activities to ensure you do get everything you can out of them, of course we can give you ideas about what to request in this regard. Again, though, the making of such requests as your mentor might suggest is a matter for you.

4. Will my mentor provide a reference?

The decision whether or not to provide a reference is in the sole discretion of the individual mentor. Being part of the mentoring scheme does not in and of itself give you a right to a reference, so your mentor will no doubt require some evidence of academic or other ability like any other referee. Bear this in mind in good time if you plan to ask your mentor to provide a reference for you.

5. What if I need help that I can't get from the mentoring scheme?

Your mentor will try to point you in the right direction. There are many sources of help which you could and should use whether you are part of the mentoring scheme or not. These include the inns of court for barristers and the Junior Lawyers' Division for solicitors. Both the Law Society and the Bar Council have excellent careers literature, and your course provider should operate workshops on obtaining training contracts or pupillages. In addition, and as with everything else, there is the experience of the SoVIL membership for you to tap into, including our excellent email list where we all help each other out throughout our professional careers.

6. How do I get more information or join?

Simply contact us. Be sure to include your name, the stage you've reached ie undergraduate degree, GDL and what have you, the course you are studying if it's not a law course, and a brief summary of why you want to join the mentoring scheme. This last part is not an admissions test – it helps us pair you up correctly and tells us more about the solutions we might have for you.