The Pros and Cons of Virtual Mentoring

December 22, 2016
We live in a truly digital age. More and more relationships and bonds are being formed without even meeting face-to-face. [Click to Tweet]These kind of relationships have spread into the business and legal world as well. In the legal world; knowledge transfer is a major way that law firms pass on their heirloom proficiencies from one partner to another. By extension, distance learning via virtual mentoring is an excellent way to facilitate that transfer of knowledge.  However,there are some pros and cons to consider when evaluating the effectiveness of virtual mentoring for legal professionals.
In traditional mentoring relationships, the mentor and mentee  usually interact on a face-to-face basis. However, modern ways of communicating via the Web, e-mail and other new technologies today make long-distance mentoring more feasible and more common. That being said, there are always pros and cons to virtual mentoring.

Pros

  • Knowledge exchange from both parties
  • Mentoring is facilitated with the ease of a non-restrictive meeting - This allows a less restrictive schedule for both parties which is very convenient, especially considering the mentor is more than likely a very busy person.
  • Larger pool of potential mentor and mentees to match together.
  • Good exposure for the mentee. - referring to having exposure to parts of the organization in different locations that maybe they wouldn't have had if it wasn't for the mentoring program)

Cons

  • Challenges in communication- Face-to-face communications offers a lot more than virtual communication such as  body language, facial expressions and gestures.
  • Time zones are a possible challenge- (One mentor could be based as far as China while the mentee is in the U.S, causing their meeting time to be precarious, at best.)
  • Lack of interest between matched pair- (again without being face to face you can't tell the level of engagement your mentor or mentee feels in the relationship)
  • Technology problems (this can be a big frustration since you are depending on technology systems to provide a channel of communication.)

The key to successful virtual mentoring is a shared understanding of how and when communications will occur. While some face-to-face meetings may be necessary, telephone calls and/or e-mails often are satisfactory for most subsequent discussions.

A principal benefit of long-distance mentoring is that it significantly expands the field of mentors available to any one lawyer. There may be a mentor based in a UK office of an international law firm that may suit the needs of a mentee in itís U.S. affiliate. This would be one advantage of virtual mentoring because it does not limit the mentee to a small field of available mentors. This is especially useful for those who practice in smaller  organisational branches where a suitable mentor may not be available locally, or in situations where the only local mentor candidate isnít suitable.
Overall; Virtual ,or distance, mentoring can be a valuable asset to an organization that has the means to support it. These means include having a large enough  pool of mentor and mentees, the technology needed to facilitate this relationship, and the need for the mentoring program all together.

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