How to return to work after a 12 year break? Kristin’s story

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Kristin Shelley

How do you return to work as a lawyer after a 12 year break? Kristin originally trained at Herbert Smith and was one of the cohort of our pilot programme.  She returned to work through the Reignite Academy and is now working in Tax at CMS Cameron McKenna.

Why did you take a career break?

With two babies under two my husband and I decided that I wouldn’t go back to work but would stay at home until they were older. We then had a third and soon after my husband’s role was moved to Hong Kong.  Unsurprisingly, my role then became about the move – settling us all into a new life.  We stayed for two and a half years. Hong Kong is hard on expat marriages and ours broke down. As a result, I returned two years ago with the children, finalised my divorce and moved out of London to Kent.At that time, a return to work was the last thing on my mind.

What inspired your return to work?

Once we were settled in Kent I realised I needed more in my life. The children were all at school, I missed the camaraderie of work and I missed the city too. Not to mention missing being busy! Reignite landed in my inbox just as I was trying to work out what to do.  It was the route I needed to return to work as a lawyer.

Pre-Reignite I’d struggled to get a foot in the door! Recruitment consultants were not interested in me for fee-earning roles. The 12 year “gap” on my cv was a huge problem.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Nerves! Like lots of smart women I battle with imposter syndrome. I worried a lot that I just wouldn’t be up to the task. And I worried about leaving the children after so long at home with them.

At first, it felt as though I had a huge mountain to climb and I wasn’t quite sure where to start.

With support from the Reignite Academy, I was able to gradually build up my confidence.  Their coaching and support helped me set the right boundaries and create a learning plan which would help me get back up to speed.  Having a mentor and a buddy within the firm were also essential in smoothing my way through the transition period.

Looking back, how do you feel about your return to work now?

CMS were fantastic.  The firm signed up fully to the scheme and provided all the support and encouragement I needed. Partners and associates have gone out of their way to make sure I am included and supported. I love it here. The work is great and so are the people. My boss checks in with me regularly and he is aware of how much of a change this is for me on a personal level.

I am now on a permanent contract. Work is so varied and I really enjoy my job. Best of all, I have a whole new friends group and a social life in London. The team works really well together and I feel like I have been fully adopted.  My self-esteem is so much higher than when I was at home. Being busy gives me a huge buzz. I enjoy being useful and being part of this team – the Tax Powerhouse.

What advice would you offer to others thinking about a return to work after a career break?

Get on the Reignite scheme! Meet up with old colleagues for coffee or wine and talk to them about the work. I’ve had so much fun reconnecting. Battle the nerves – read self-help books, get the headspace app, talk to others who have returned.  Be brave. Ignore bad advice  – I was told this couldn’t be done (a return to fee-earning) but fortunately I ignored that advice and carried on regardless!

Finally – find other women in the same position and meet up. There are lots of us and it’s great fun meeting up for a glass of wine after work.

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Reignite Academy Summer Roadshow

We are excited to announce that the Reignite Academy will be on the road in May, offering you the chance to join us in person to explore ways to relaunch or pivot your legal career.

The Reignite Academy team will be joined by other women who have successfully returned to law after a career hiatus. They will share their stories, experience and advice.

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