Return to Law

The Reignite Academy

At the Reignite Academy we are creating opportunities for “career break” lawyers to get their careers back on track.

Women like Mehrnaz Afshar, who had taken time off from a magic circle firm to set up a small business, and Kristin Shelley, now a tax lawyer at CMS who took a break to bring up her three children.  Despite training with blue chip firms, they had gaps on their CVs.  As a result, recruiters would not look at them.

“Recruiters told me that my only chance of returning would be in a support role” she explained.

Recognising this was not an uncommon experience, we decided to set up the Reignite Academy.  We joined up with with six City law firms – firms who were brave enough to pilot a cross-firm returnship programme.  The idea was to provide successful candidates with six months of paid work experience, training and coaching. Our intention was that at the end of the six months our candidates would feel fully back up to speed.

 

A successful pilot

It worked.  

“With Reignite I didn’t have to kick any doors down” says Kristin.  “Firms were ready to interview me and could look past the gap in my CV.  And they soon recognised that I’ve got great experience and I’m hungry and ambitious. I just needed to get in the door.”

Our pilot Reignite Academy programme ran from January to July 2019, and all the women who completed it now have permanent jobs or contract extensions.  Building on this success, we are now running a second programme and  applications are open now for candidates for the January 2020 intake. 

We also know that whilst some people, like Kristin, take complete career breaks, others might continue to work but at a lower level.  So, places are open for lawyers like Anne Todd, who joined Macfarlanes after twenty years in house, working her way up to General Counsel level.  Anne had assumed a return to private practice was impossible and when interviewed recently explained how the Reignite Academy helped:

“It wouldn’t have been possible without their support and encouragement …I’m part of the first cohort and there have been a few learning points, on both sides, but I have an amazing coach and a great network of people in the cohort. I would recommend it to anyone going back into private practice.”

Top tips for returners

If you are looking to return to law after a break, here are our 5 top tips:

  • Never say “I used to be”: if you’re a Cambridge educated, magic circle trained employment lawyer flaunt it.  And make sure that experience is prominent on your CV. Don’t waste space talking about every voluntary role you’ve ever had.
  • Leap before you look – put yourself out there, don’t wait until everything is ready, every journey starts with a first step.
  • Play the long game with your career: think about where you want to be in five years and make sure your next move is one that moves you in that direction.
  • Use your network: the people you trained with, old colleagues, old clients – many of them will be in senior positions now and happy to help.
  • Prepare the home team: helping your children to become more independent is never a bad thing.  Enlist support from your partner (if you have one), if you’re going to be doing less around the house they’re going to need to do more.

 

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