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I have worked as a legal recruitment consultant at Chadwick Nott for over 12 years now and in the last year, more than ever before, have dealt with an increasing number of inquiries from solicitors looking to return to practice either after a career break or after a break away from the legal profession. The majority of these inquiries are from women looking to return after fairly standard periods of maternity leave, but some are from solicitors (both male and female) who are looking to return to the profession after a longer period away from practice. The reasons for taking a career break are many and varied and much of the advice about returning is dependent on specific circumstances, but I have tried to produce some general tips/guidance for anyone who has taken a career break and is thinking about returning.
When to return to practice?
It’s difficult to answer this one as I think the right answer to some extent is when it feels mostly right for you. It’s often a difficult decision and there’s a good chance there will be other factors to take into account; finances, childcare and maybe even your own self-esteem or your partner’s career. Obviously the sooner you return to practice after having a break, the greater your chances are of finding a suitable role. The other important factor to take into account is the economy as this has an enormous impact on the number of roles available, which practice areas are in demand and how flexible law firms are willing to be.
Type of role
You may want to return to the same type of role you had previously or things may have changed for you during your career break that have a bearing on the role you are looking for now; perhaps you need a part time role or an element of flexibility or perhaps the time away has given you the opportunity to reflect on the area of law you want to practice or the type of position that would suit you now. There are lots of different options now, but some of options include:
• Part time – firms usually prefer at least 3 days per week. Permanent positions for less than 3 days per week are still quite difficult to come by. Some practice areas lend themselves more easily to part time working and some practice areas might dictate the days of the week you need to work (for example most part time residential conveyancers work on a Friday).
• 5 days per week but compressed/school hours.
• Compressed hours – working 5 days per week in 4
• Project and locum work – particularly if you had a good level of experience before taking your break
• Working from home either permanently or on a regular weekly basis
• Changing role - PSL roles, compliance positions, document review roles, managerial role, changing practice area
• Setting up on your own or working for a virtual or office-based firm where you are effectively self-employed
If you are employed at the moment then don’t automatically assume that your current employer won’t be flexible or that they won’t consider a request from you to change hours, practice area, how you work etc and it is definitely worth having a conversation with them first. If you are no longer employed it might be worth speaking to any previous firms you have worked for if this is an option that might work for you.
Don’t waste lots of time scouring the internet for job adverts that seem like the perfect fit. Most recruitment agencies and indeed a lot of law firms don’t always advertise all their vacancies. A very quick search of all our vacancies shows we are currently advertising about 70% of the roles we have. The best course of action is to find a good recruitment consultant and to have a confidential chat to them. We are rarely instructed on positions where the firm is specifically looking for someone part time so if you are looking to work part time/flexible hours or to have the ability to work from home, then it’s worth keeping an eye on full time roles too as we often find that employers are willing to be flexible if they find the right person.
Try to be as flexible as you can about location and the type of firm you work for. Remember that taking a job might serve a purpose and be a useful stepping stone to get you to where you want to be longer term. Be reasonable about what you are looking for.
If you are looking for flexibility in your new role, be mindful of the need to be flexible in return. There might be occasions where you need to be available on a non-working day, swap your days, work out of core hours for example.
Practical considerations for preparing to return to work
• Find a good recruitment consultant who has either been recommended to you or has a strong presence in the area you are looking to work. Ex-colleagues and the HR department or practice manager at your previous firm might be a good starting point for recommendations.
• If you worked for a large firm with an alumni network, this might also be a good starting point for returning to work.
• Prepare a CV. Don’t feel you have to need to use a CV writing service as we can give advice on preparing a CV if you need this. Don’t worry about keeping your CV to 2 pages. If you have spent some time working in a non-legal role then think about what transferable skills you have developed which could be useful
• Don’t worry too much about your skills being rusty. We often find that lawyers are able to get up to speed more quickly than they think. If you are worried then consider attending a returners course run by The Law Society or have a look at this helpful website. If you are considering a new area of law then it could be worth attending an intensive course so that you at least have a basic understanding of that area of work.
• Some firms run organised work experience placements for lawyers looking to return to work. These are known as “returnships”. Even if the law firms near you don’t offer formal returnships, you could consider contacting firms and arranging work experience if you think this might help.
• Consider updating your Linkedin profile or setting yourself up on Linkedin
• Make sure you are up to date with any developments in the area of law you want to practice.
• Contact the SRA about restoration to the roll and applying for a practising certificate (if applicable). It is now much cheaper and quicker to obtain a practising certificate than it has been in the past.
• Depending on when you last worked in private practice, you may find that other requirements have changed. For example there are various requirements for managerial positions and there are new CPD requirements where solicitors make annual declarations regarding their learning. There is no requirement to make this declaration if you are reapplying for your practising certificate although, as previously mentioned, you do need to make sure you are up to date with current developments in your area of practice.
If you would like a confidential chat about your options for returning to work after a career break, please get in touch with me Cathryn Holmes.