I qualified in February 2008 and worked for 4 years in the commercial/corporate department of an American firm. I would also occasionally pick up some work from the privacy and the dispute resolution/litigation departments. In fact I also assisted the intellectual property office in Brussels on a project.
I have since taken a break to start a family. My official last day of working was 31 December 2011. So have had 6 years out. I would now like to return to work but unsure of where to start. I have a CV which lists all my experience. However, I would like to move away from commercial/corporate type work. In fact I would like to look at child protection/child care law. How would I get into a new area of specialism? Should I expect to start again at the bottom rung of the ladder?
The good news is the legal profession is changing fast and beginning to embrace the merits of a diverse workforce. Employers are recognising the skills returners bring including – resilience; organisational and multi-tasking abilities together with enhanced soft people skills. Careers are moving away from linear paths (and ladders!). Portfolio careers enable returners to dive back into the talent pool at whatever depth or pace their work/life balance wishes to swim!
Having a mentor in your new field is really helpful. Join networks, for example, AWS London and Women’s Law Division (WLD) at the Law Society. The WLD run bi annual return to work courses which are a great way of meeting fellow returners and networking. Also contact the Women Returners Network. WRN have many free resources on their website including guidance on writing CVs after a career break.
Strategic volunteering will develop your confidence and competencies; volunteer at the local school or a children’s charity to gain direct experience in the child care sector. Attending seminars and technical courses is also important to increase your knowledge and re-establish a career network.
Remember, your legal skills are very transferrable. Switching specialties is possible especially when you are curious to learn about a new practice area. When transitioning back to your legal career a good starting place is to check out the SRA Continuing Competence tool kit. CPD requirements have changed and the reflective self-analytical approach will help in mapping out your next steps. The SRA Competence Statement, in addition to technical legal practice, covers working with other people and self-management. Take advantage of developing these competencies needed to forward your legal career whilst on your returner journey and enjoy the challenges ahead.
Gillian Fielden is Vice Chair at AWSL.
Savvy recruiters realise there is an enormous pool of talent out there in the form of lawyers who have taken career breaks to have children and are looking for a return to the law. 6 years out should be no bar at all. Nor should a change of specialism. You will have to be realistic about remuneration. If you were starting in a new specialism with no experience in it and after 6 years out of law you cannot expect to slot into the career structure where you left off. But I would not expect your experience to date to be discounted. Perhaps come in at a 2-3 year pqe level?
David Smellie is a partner at Farrer & Co and leads the firm’s safeguarding unit
The Gazette endeavours to feature as many of your questions as possible but regrets that our careers counsellors are unable to reply personally.