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.