Returning to the law following a short or long break can feel incredibly daunting.
Whether you have had a break due to illness or to take time out to dedicate your energy to bring up your children for a few or many years, or put your own career on the backburner living abroad for your partner’s career, mustering the confidence to speak to recruiters or apply to employers can feel like a steep cliff.
Common challenges that Returners experience are; lack of self-confidence and doubt that it is possible to re-enter the profession; lack of a clear route back to the profession and where to start; lack of interest by some myopic recruiters believing that a career break has led to a loss of skills; and practical requirements such as how to renew a practicing certificate.
One of the highlights of my year is helping out at the bi annual Law Society Returners course (the next course is Friday 24 and Saturday 25 November in Oxfordshire). To witness up to 40 delegates blossom over the two days is a joy. At the start they worry about ‘the gap’ on their CV, almost obsessively, as though having children or being ill is something to apologise for. It isn’t. By the end of the two days, they see that the ‘gap’ has provided many marketable gifts, and they are walking taller and smiling more, seeing the possibilities ahead, instead of the problems. They also realise that their brain is still working and they are not as rusty as they felt they were.
For some delegates, these two days is the first time in five years that they have had time to focus on themselves. On day one of the course, each delegate introduces themselves for two minutes. They share stories of moving families from one side of the world to another, of helping their children or themselves recover from life threatening illnesses, of studying for new qualifications in their ‘spare time’, being a governor at their children’s schools and doing voluntary work to keep their brains ticking over. In some cases, all of these things have featured in their career ‘break’.
Lawyers have amazing brains, are hardworking and possess useful skills such as critical thinking and advising on risk. These are not to be wasted in an uncertain world needing a lawyer’ guiding hand. Common themes during the Returners course in the conversations that naturally emerge between delegates include guilt about leaving their children, thinking about their own career by returning to work, their hunger for intellectual stimulation, feeling that they are ‘rusty’ in terms of skills and knowledge, and overwhelm about the changing IT requirements of a job and what role social media plays. Sharing fears, experience, ideas and gaining a new network of people at a similar crossroads which will provide support on their journey is invaluable too.
The Returners course helps delegates to believe in their skills, exploit the available opportunities for support from the Law Society, Lawcare, the SRA and others. They hear speakers share about their own career paths and current role, learning new career options to leverage their skills and experience that didn’t exist when they were last in the profession.
‘These presentations boosted my confidence, as prior to these, I felt that my objective of returning to a legal career after such a lengthy absence would be an impossible task.’
Coming back into the law is not easy. You need to be confident in what you offer. You need to be resilient to knock backs. You need to understand that some decision makers see women and maternity leave as a ‘cost’ or ‘risk’. You need to learn how to overcome such unconscious bias. You need to have a career goal and plan, a compelling CV, understand what makes you unique and know how to leverage your networks.
The good news is that Returners have many many skills and much experience to benefit their employers and their clients. Your brains may feel rusty but looking after kids and managing an illness, as challenging as this can be, provide many useful skills; resilience, patience, negotiation, multi-tasking, persistence. In an uncertain world dealing with tricky peers and clients, Returners have a competitive advantage from their ‘gap’. The legal profession is starting to become more open to more flexible working with freelance, contracting and in-house sectors all growing.
So if you are a Returner or know someone who wants to return to the law, tell them about the Law Society’s Returners course – two days dedicated and carefully crafted to help them relaunch themselves with conviction and confidence following a proven well-structured course with many helpers and speakers, all giving them time voluntarily, passionate about supporting their successful return to the profession.
Rachel Brushfield is The Talent Liberator from Energise - a Career strategist and coach with 30 years’ experience. Her session ‘A good CV is like squeezing oranges’ is on day one of the course.