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You’ve decided to return to work in the legal profession after a number of years away. Where do you start in making this transition? Right here.
Whether you are a seasoned stay-at-home mom who has taken a few years off, you have taken time to care for a loved one, or you have worked outside the legal profession, returning to active practice after an extended hiatus can be daunting. You might ask yourself: “Will my experience and education be discounted after so many years of not working?” “If I am offered a role, will I be able to keep up with all the changes that have occurred since I was last in the workforce?”
Once you’ve decided to make the transition, where do you start? Many lawyers, both men and women, struggle with these questions.
At a recent conference hosted by the Law Society of Alberta, Caren Ulrich Stacy, Founder of Legal Talent Lab & OnRamp Fellowship, shared the following top three pointers to women returning to the practice of law:
- Once you know what you want to do, ensure that your social media profiles — in particular LinkedIn — are as comprehensive and up-to-date as your resume. Highlight the specific value you bring to whatever you want your 2.0 career to be.
- Attend trade conferences and educational seminars in the area of law or type of industry you want to enter or re-enter. You need to know the latest trends, buzz words and who’s who to get your foot in the door and “talk the talk” when interviewing.
- When you interview, don’t defend or excuse your decision to take a hiatus from practice. Answer the “why did you leave?” question with one sentence and move on. Your focus should be on what you bring to the table and the value you add to the firm (or company) and their clients.
Caren had these observations about the main challenges women experience when they return to work:
“There are three really big challenges for most women who are returning to work. First, they typically lack confidence and undersell themselves. Second, technology has advanced and firm systems are complex to learn (e.g., documents are now on the cloud, not in a physical file room), which is often overwhelming when they are trying to update their legal experience/skills at the same time. Third, no matter how ready they think they are to return to work from a home/career life balance perspective, it’s usually a difficult transition at first. They need to cut themselves (as well as their significant others and kids) some slack — everyone is readjusting to this career 2.0 life change.”
Preparation is the key. Rehearsing answers to these commonly asked questions can help put you in the zone for those nerve wracking interviews:
- Why did you leave?
- What did you do during your hiatus?
- Why do you want to come back, now?
- Why are you interested in this role/organization?
- What makes you a good fit for this role?
- Tell me about you.
- What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
- What will your references say about you?
In addition, here’s a helpful checklist best tackled 6 – 18 months in advance of your return to work:
- Explore home/life decisions (childcare, transportation for commute, parking, reallocate household responsibilities)
- Attend continuing legal education events and seminars
- Look for informal and formal networking opportunities
- Update social media profiles
- Update resume and cover letter
- Consider self-assessments, coaching, and/or re-entry programs
- Review the Law Society rules regarding reinstatement and understand the regulatory steps required by the process
- Talk to other lawyers who have successfully transitioned and ask for their tips
A lawyer’s intelligence and cumulative wisdom doesn’t disappear simply because they are no longer involved in the active practice of law. Many skills that are developed through involvement in outside activities are readily transferable. It is important to understand your overall objectives and be able to communicate those clearly and effectively. There are many examples of successful lawyers who have returned to the workforce that provide encouragement and guidance for those with determination and confidence, or at least the ability to appear that they possess those qualities.