I'm a lawyer, not a dogsbody


I've been working for a large international law firm in the City for just over 6 months. I was recruited from Cambridge, where I graduated with a double first. I quickly found myself seconded to a mentor, who is a senior female partner in the firm. However, she uses me to do all her dirty work, including making appointments, getting coffee, collecting dry cleaning and acting as a general dogsbody. In between this I do a lot of the background work for her clients, for which I receive very little thanks, appreciation and recognition. She rarely introduces me to important clients and constantly seems to take the credit for the work I put in. I feel I am learning nothing and that my career is being blocked. What should I do ?

Kirsty, London

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Charles Helliwell's Answer:

Put yourself behind the eyeball of your mentor for a moment and try and imagine what it is she sees in you and what it is she actually wants from you. Then, once you've done that, it will become a lot easier to decide what it is you want from her.

This situation could be a simple case of misunderstanding and miscommunication or something far more serious - but it's up to you find out which.

Coming into the commercial world, 'cold' so-to-speak often creates a completely different interpretation from perception to reality. There's sometimes an almost Utopian expectation on behalf of us, which is often cruelly exposed within our first tenure. This may be case for you too, although it doesn't have to stay that way.

You've been there now for over 6 months. You should know your way around by now, plus you should have some idea about which aspects of Law interest you the most. It's easy to forget that you were recruited for your perceived and expected potential; no one expects you to hit the ground running immediately. However, they will expect you to make the running with them at some point. Picking up laundry and getting coffee isn't it and you must not allow yourself to get drawn any further down that path.

Is it possible that your mentor has no idea where your interests lie and have you considered that perhaps she, too, is feeling very uncomfortable about what you want to do ?

It's up to you to take responsibility for what happens next. It won't be easy and it will feel very uncomfortable; that's all part of what you'll have to learn in the commercial world. However, a word of advice. Please pick an appropriate time; an appropriate place and be prepared.

An adult to adult discussion requires you have to have your adult head screwed firmly in place and that means no bitching, moaning or recriminations. OK ?

About our Expert

Charles Helliwell
Charles Helliwell

For almost 20 years, Charles Helliwell has been enjoying a lifestyle and making a living as a behavioural and relationship mentor specialising in the personal and professional development of individuals and teams in the workplace.