How my return to law opened up a whole new world

It’s a first!  Following her promotion, one of our Reignite Academy alumni, Hannah Edwards, is looking for a replacement. Her return not only opened up a whole new world for Hannah, her promotion now creates opportunities for others.

A little background

Hannah first approached the Reignite Academy in the summer of 2019.  She had always worked in real estate law, having trained at at Slaughter and May and later spending time at Stevens & Bolton.  She had also worked as an in-house real estate lawyer at Marks and Spencer. 

Hannah took a career break when the family relocated to Scotland.  Returning to the South five years later, she approached the Reignite Academy to help her return to the law.  She was offered an in house risk and compliance role back at Stevens & Bolton and though this was a new area for her, she made the leap.

We spoke to Hannah about her experience.

What made you choose this particular role?

It was a combination of factors.  I did love being a lawyer and enjoyed my time working in real estate, but I was beginning to feel a bit pigeon-holed. 

Moving to a risk and compliance role was an opportunity to do something different, to challenge myself and to take everything I’d learnt so far and add to it.  It was the chance to build on what I’d done to date and take it in a new direction.

There was also the lifestyle factor.  Risk and compliance work is important but doesn’t usually come with the unpredictability and long hours that some fee earning roles entail.

How did you find the transition?

Well, it was a challenge at first.  I had a learning plan all mapped out but what I actually found was that most of what you learn comes from the issues being thrown at you on a day to day basis. 

Luckily, as lawyers, we are used to looking things up, seeking out precedents, understanding new legislation and rule changes.  I also had a very supportive boss and the partners at Stevens & Bolton were very accommodating.  Everyone wanted me to succeed.

What do you enjoy most about the work?

There is a tremendous variety to what we do.  Our team covers everything from conflicts, complex anti-money laundering issues and data protection through to supplier contracts, firm policies and regulatory compliance.  No one day is the same.

Moving into this role has really refreshed my interest in my career.  It doesn’t feel as though I have “gone back”, in reality I’ve “moved forwards.”

How do you find Stevens & Bolton as a firm

I love it here.  The firm really is exceptionally collaborative.  Everyone is friendly and supportive.  The culture is great and that makes it a really nice place to work.

What does the future look like?

I’m hiring my replacement!  I have just been promoted and we need to find another lawyer to join the team and work with me.  S&B has embraced an agile working model and our team will continue with a mixture of remote working and in person collaboration in the office.

As Hannah says, there is a new opportunity for a risk and compliance lawyer at Stevens & Bolton.  You needn’t have experience in this role previously, although some experience of commercial contracts and data privacy would be helpful, along with a general awareness of the regulations governing a law firm. 

If Hannah’s experience sounds of interest and you’d like to explore this opportunity please contact us or apply here.

The Truth About Career Returners … It Might Just Surprise You

Three years in, 54  women back to work in their legal careers after career breaks spanning anything from two to eighteen years.  What have we learnt?

The Length of the Career Gap is Irrelevant

Elizabeth had a career break of seventeen years before returning to work as a corporate lawyer at Orrick.  That’s right: seventeen years.  Louise had been out for ten years, Alifya for five.

We have learnt that the length of someone’s career break bears absolutely NO correlation to their ability to succeed.  These are smart women, highly qualified and used to learning the law.  Getting back up to speed with the law as it stands today is not a problem (though I can’t necessarily say the same for document management systems and headsets).

As Elizabeth put it:

I realised I didn’t have to get up to speed with seventeen years of law changes; I just had to get up to speed with the law as it stands today.”

What Matters Is Attitude

It’s all in the head .. and the heart.  If people have determination, grit, a growth mindset, patience and resilience they can achieve pretty much anything.  And as many returners have spent a lot of time dealing with small children, patience and resilience are present in bucketloads.

Confidence Can be Built

Not all returners lack confidence.  In fact, many begin with plenty of the stuff, but have it knocked out of them when they face rejection after rejection.

In any event, we have learnt that by getting people to focus on their strengths, take pride in past achievements, talk to old colleagues it is absolutely possible to rebuild that confidence.  Our career coaches also spend a lot of time supporting candidates through the interview process and beyond, which we know helps a lot.

Partners Have the Power

As Steph often puts it, “You’re only as good as the partner you get.”  She’s not talking about the marital kind (although they do have a role to play).

When Rebecca joined our pilot programme, her line partner, Mel, checked in with her every week. Only for 5 minutes and it was a light touch, but that check in and that habit of constant feedback and conversation meant that Rebecca’s transition back to work was smooth and problem free.

In contrast, unclear objectives, a lack of clarity on how success will be measured and little feedback can leave people floundering, unsure of themselves and unable to perform to the best of their ability.

They’re Not Going Back

We have had the utmost pleasure in supporting our candidates and being with them on the journey (as they say in all the best reality TV shows).  The term “returner” is misleading.   These women are not going back, they are moving forwards.  They are taking all their experience – life and work – and moving on to the next phase of their professional careers.

As Vanessa, who recently took an in house role at ASK Partners after a 4 year career break, put it:

For me,  it’s not just about reigniting something from of old; you have set alight something very new. I feel like I am discovering myself … at a really interesting time in my life. 

If you’re a lawyer considering taking the leap, jump right in.  The safety nets are there.  We know you can do it.  If you’re a law firm toying with the idea of taking on these candidates, go right ahead. You just might surprise yourself.

Why move from in house back to private practice?

An interview with Anne Todd, who recently made the move

Anne is an experienced commercial lawyer, specialising in telecoms, technology and data privacy.  After qualifying in private practice, her varied career has included a number of firsts.  She was General Counsel of Storm, one of the first pan-European wholesale telecoms companies; the first General Counsel of Sodexo UK, a major outsourced services and PFI provider; one of the first pioneering lawyers to join Lawyers on Demand at its inception; and one of the first lawyers to join the Reignite Academy.

Anne is now a senior associate at Macfarlanes.  I spoke to her recently about her motivations for returning to private practice and how the reality compared to her initial expectations.

You had a successful freelance career, what motivated you to return to private practice?

Working freelance brings all sorts of benefits and was the right thing for me when my boys were younger.  I was able to find work through a number of channels, including my own contacts and also platforms such as Lawyers on Demand.  Throughout this time, I worked in some interesting businesses and gained some great insights.  In time, though, I realised that I wanted more than “work”.  I wanted a rewarding “career”.

Could you say a little more?  What does having a “rewarding career” look like?

For me, it’s the feeling that someone’s investing in my career. Freelance work was financially rewarding and, to some extent, flexible.  However, there was no training, no development and no opportunity for progression or leadership.

Even when I did long term secondments, it often felt as though I was putting things in place for other people’s benefit. This made if feel as though I was building value in the organisation rather than building value in me.  It can also be a little lonely.

How has your experience at Macfarlanes lived up to that expectation?

It’s delivered everything I was looking for, from that perspective.  Partners are out there developing clients and helping me develop my own business plan. The training and business development support has been fantastic. I really feel as though the work I’ve been doing since I came here is helping to re-build my reputation and profile.

It’s also a lot of fun.  The team I work with are quite young and really engaging, there are a lot of initiatives within the team to develop our practice.  Not only that, there are plenty of social and cultural events during the daytime as well as in the evening.  I’m enjoying being back in a team environment.

How has the firm recognised the value you can add, given your previous experience?

The Business Services and Marketing team took me under their wing quite early on.  They realised that my experience working in-house could be very useful to them and got me involved in an annual event they run for the firm’s client General Counsels.  I hosted a panel of GCs talking about the subject of balance, which enabled me to draw on all those years of experience working freelance and in-house.

More recently, I worked with the Learning and Development team, designing a programme for junior associates, to improve their understanding of their in-house clients.  I thoroughly enjoyed being involved in areas that are outside my usual sphere.  It was a good way of connecting with other people in the firm, in non-fee earning roles.

What, if anything, has been the biggest challenge?

It can be a bit strange going from being a senior in-house GC, or working freelance for that matter, to being back in a partnership structure. By definition, partnerships are hierarchical.

That said, the partners here have been friendly and welcoming.  They recognise my experience and see the value I can bring, they have introduced me to their clients and have been open about getting me involved in different areas of work, even beyond my obvious area of expertise.  Which means that the barriers you might imagine to be there don’t exist in reality.

What advice would you give to anyone considering a return to private practice?

Take the leap. It’s a great opportunity to invest in the next phase of your career.  There is much more flexibility than there was years ago and people are genuinely committed to finding ways to improve diversity within law firms.