How often do you meet a woman who graduated and took up a profession with great ambition only to find that her career became sidetracked when children came along? I use the word “sidetracked” deliberately because whilst some women take a complete break, many don’t. Instead, they find ways to continue to work that offer a degree of flexibility. Sadly, in doing so, many find themselves operating well below their potential.
Still, it’s worth it just to have that flexibility, particularly with young children around. But what about when they get a little older? What about when they are more independent and women have more time on their hands. We know from speaking to countless women that their professional ambition is still there, and yet it’s really tricky to get a career back on track after a hiatus of any kind.
Which is why we set up the Reignite Academy: a collaboration between the founders – Melinda Wallman, Stephanie Dillon and myself – and a growing number of City law firms. The programme provides lawyers with a path back into private practice through a six month paid period of training, coaching and work experience.
We ran our inaugural programme earlier this year; nine women returned to work with one of four member firms. We were so inspired by the quality of the women we placed that we decided to repeat the exercise and set about finding more law firms who were willing to join us to help more people reignite their careers.
A further eight firms soon joined and now we’re looking for candidates interested in joining the next programme. What does a typical candidate look like? The short answer: there is no such thing. Those returning – and in our initial cohort they are all women – range in experience from one year PQE to over 20; they cover disciplines including corporate, banking and finance, regulatory, tax, commercial, employment and real estate.
Manjit began her career as a TV presenter before training as a lawyer with a city firm. She worked as in house counsel for a music company and for a large telco, covering IP, commercial, consumer regulations, branding and advertising, amassing four years’ PQE prior to taking what would become a 10 year break from the law.
Two of the more experienced candidates each have eight and twenty-plus years’ PQE. One is a banking and finance lawyer, who left a city career to go in house before going freelance. The other is a commercial lawyer with experience working for city firms and as in house counsel.
At the other end of the spectrum, Elizabeth had two years’ post qualification experience, working as a corporate lawyer for a magic circle firm, including a stint in Brussels. She had a 17 year break away from the city and is now in the corporate department at Orrick.
Whilst they are a very diverse group, they do have something in common: grit, determination and ambition; they are raring to go. We asked the group for any advice they’d pass on to anyone considering the programme. Here are some of their tips:
- Your earlier experience and training hasn’t disappeared. Yes, some things have changed in the law but much hasn’t. And as a lawyer, you’re used to checking things and looking things up. Don’t worry about hitting the ground running on day 1. The whole point of the programme is to provide you with time to get back up to speed.
- Have an eye to the future. Think about where you’d like to be in five years, ten years not just six months from now. As they say on the reality TV shows, it’s a journey.
- Yes, you’ll be working with colleagues and people in more senior positions who are often much younger than you. It’s no big deal and they sometimes find it stranger than you – let them know it’s OK to delegate things to you.
- Value what you are bringing to the party: your networks, your maturity, your experience, your wisdom.
- Having a coach is a privilege. Use them wisely.
- You’re not on your own. Although the ten women in the pilot work across four different firms, they do stay together as a cohort and regularly communicate and encourage each other.
- Dictaphones are out. Document management systems are in: don’t worry, they’re not difficult to learn, it’s just different.
I’ll leave the last words to Rebecca, who joined CMS in January:
“The Reignite Academy provided me with a way back into private practice that I didn’t think would be open after more than five years out. My line partner could not have been more supportive. She made contact with me the week before I joined and met with me each week during the first couple of months to check on my progress. I was delighted to receive a permanent offer of employment just four months into the programme.”
Applications for the September 2019 programme close on Friday 15th June.
For more information and to apply check out the Reignite Academy website.