The Reignite Academy launched a year ago, with one simple aim: to enable lawyers to get their City careers back on track after a career hiatus. We chose the name “Reignite” because our aim was not simply to help people return after a complete career break. We also wanted to provide opportunities for people who might have left private practice to work in house or freelance.
How did we do?
- Six City firms joined as members to launch the pilot
- Nine women completed the pilot programme (which is open to men and women)
- Eight accepted permanent roles or contract extensions with member firms, the ninth found a role elsewhere
- The Programme won three prestigious Awards
- HR in Law Award for Direct Recruitment
- HR in Law Overall Grand Prix Award 2019
- FT Innovative Lawyers Award Europe for Diversity & Inclusion
- Thirteen more firms have signed up as members, including Slaughter and May, Freshfields, Simmons & Simons and Taylor Wessing
- Nine women received offers on the second programme
- Between them, the eighteen women going through the first two programmes bring back eighty years private practice experience
- The average age is around forty
- 70% of candidates are working on a flexible working arrangement, the most common being four days a week
- 95% have agreed agile working arrangements
- Their overall annual earnings will be in the region of £1.5 million
- The shortest time away from private practice was two years, the longest seventeen years
- The average years’ PQE on leaving private practice was four and a half years
- Eleven different practice areas are represented, including funds, banking and finance, corporate finance, tax, employment, commercial, structured finance, restructuring and insolvency
- Sixteen people are currently going through interviews for the third programme
- One hundred and twenty people have attended “Reignite Your Legal Career” workshops, run by the Academy team
What have we learnt?
There is no “typical’ Reignite candidate. Which means that, to bring the programme to life, we tell the stories of our candidates.
Kristin who left her job as a 5 year PQE tax lawyer to relocate to China with her family, where she couldn’t practice. Returning twelve years later she was told by recruiters that the only way she’d find a role with a law firm was as a PSL. She’s kicking it as a Tax lawyer at CMS.
Anne, who had over twenty years PQE and who’d held General Counsel roles before shifting to work freelance when she needed added flexibility to be around for her children. Finding herself with ambition and drive to get her City career back on track, Macfarlanes were able to look beyond her most recent experience and recognise the value she was bringing back to their firm.
Partners “get it”.
The partners we are working with are not doing this to tick a box. They understand this is a valuable source of talent because they can all recall examples of some of the lawyers they lost. Tell them a story and they tell you one back. Of a sister who left the law and has unfulfilled potential; an associate they used to work with who they wish they’d been able to retain; their peers who seem to have fallen by the wayside.
Not only do they “get it” they are keen to understand the role they can play to make it work.
Getting back up to speed with the law is not an issue.
To quote Elizabeth (seventeen years out, now in Corporate at Orrick):
“I didn’t need to catch up on 17 years of law changes. I just had to get back up to speed with the law as it stands today.”
These are smart people. More often than not, they are Oxbridge graduates who’ve trained with magic or silver circle law firms. They are lawyers. Learning new law is not a problem. (Document management systems, open plan offices, headsets … now they are all a bit more problematic).
Six months works.
It’s six months for a reason. Yes, we want people to receive offers at the end, but week one is not the time to worry about that. Yes, people will have billing targets but it helps if they gradually build up rather than being a pressure point from day one. Yes, there will be bumps in the road and days when you think “I can’t do this”. This too will pass, especially when you have a coach, a cohort, a mentor and the Reignite Academy team on your side.
Life begins at 40.
Anna began the programme fretful about how she’d manage a return at the same time as being a single mum to a boy who wouldn’t do his homework and trumpet practice unless closely supervised. Friends advised her to get a job as a librarian (seriously). All she wants to do now is be the best funds lawyer she can be. Her son is proud of her and his homework hasn’t suffered. (He’s dropped the trumpet).
The people on this programme are ready for the next phase of their careers. They are ambitious, ready to learn and eager to pick up where they left off, bringing with them a wealth of experience, maturity, perspective, wisdom and networks that stretch back to their days being under a training contract.
Our Single Biggest Challenge?
Spreading the word. Not to potential clients, our string of awards and amazing PR machine (us, basically,) has that sorted. No, the challenge is spreading the word to candidates.
Women who might have left City firms five to ten years ago probably did so thinking they’d never return. People who went in-house did so with the certainty that they’d never go back. They may still feel that way, and may not even be looking. Until, that is, they wake up and realise they miss the intellectual stimulation, miss working with like-minded people, miss having someone else invest in their careers, begin to question “what does the next twenty years look like for me?”
And as one of our cohort put it: “I didn’t want to spend the next twenty years having cups of tea with my dog walking friends”.
For anyone in that particular situation, we’ll leave the advice to Richard Branson:
“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.” Richard Branson
Anyone interested in applying or to simply find out more, please get in touch via the website www.reigniteacademy.co.uk or email lisa, stephanie, sharon or tanja @reigniteacademy.co.uk
For further information for either candidates or employers, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org