Magic circle firm Allen & Overy has set up what it claims to be the first scheme of its kind in the UK to encourage women on extended career breaks to return to the law.

The firm’s announcement comes after figures from the Law Society’s latest Annual Statistics Report suggest the law is good at attracting women but not so much at retaining or promoting them. More than half of PC holders under the age of 35 are women.

But this number starts to decline as solicitors get older.

Allen & Overy’s ‘Return to law’ programme will be available to former employees who are part of the firm’s alumni network. It is specifically targeting women as part of its 20:20 initiative to increase the proportion of women partners to at least 20% by 2020. Women currently account for 17% of the partnership.

They will be paid a salary which the firm said would be 'reflective of the level of work they undertake'.

Managing partner Wim Dejonghe said the firm knew, through its 20:20 work, that a significant factor contributing to the lack of women in senior roles was the perceived difficulty for them reintegrating into the workplace following an extended career break.

Participants will undergo 'intensive technical training' which will include on-the-job development. They will also develop core skills focusing on personal brand, impact and resilience.

At the end of the six-month programme, the participants will be offered a job at Peerpoint, the firm’s contract lawyer business, or in exceptional circumstances, with Allen & Overy.

Dejonghe said: ‘If there’s one thing we’re learning about the support women need to fulfil their professional ambitions while balancing commitments outside of work, it’s that there’s no silver bullet.’

‘To succeed here as a firm, we need to come up with new initiatives like this so that we can continue to broaden our understanding to find different approaches that address the varying needs of women wanting to continue their professional careers in the law.’