Unlocking Your Legal Career: Insights and Strategies from the Legal Returners’ Springboard

Here at Obelisk Support we’ve been working with returners to help them re-start their legal careers since 2010. To help even more people get back to the work they love, this month saw us launch the Legal Returners’ Springboard, an online learning experience and network.

Obelisk’s own Louisa van Eeden-Smit looks at what we learnt at our first four-day Springboard event

The “squiggly” career is much more common than we think; career pauses, pivots and portfolios are becoming the new normal as we work for longer

If you’ve taken a step away from your legal career, for whatever reason, you might feel isolated and “left behind” by your peers. The career stories of our own consultants and many of the guests who spoke at the Springboard show that returning after a break is much more common than we might think.

Demographic and social trends suggest that most of us will be likely to work for longer than previous generations, which will make it increasingly likely that all of us will take breaks and change direction more frequently than those who have gone before us. Careers are increasingly less one straight line and much more often include breaks, detours and even complete changes in direction.

The strengths we build outside of work make us stronger in work; time invested in understanding and showcasing those strengths sets us up for success and sets us apart

Experience outside of the professional sphere helps us build and develop our strengths just as much as, if not more than, time spent in work. Our guest Katie Driver of Thinking Alliance shared how identifying and articulating these key strengths can help legal returners to find, secure and craft the role they want. Katie recommended tapping into resources such as Strengths Profile to help you identify and focus on your core strengths as you come back into the workplace.

There is real momentum behind changing how we work in the legal industry and supporting different career journeys to encourage greater diversity

Depending on when you last worked in the legal profession, you might be surprised at just how many organisations are now embracing flexible working and more diverse career paths. Tom Shropshire, General Counsel and Company Secretary at Diageo PLC, shared his perspective on the momentum that GC’s are driving in terms of opening up opportunities for returners in their legal teams, and the growing realisation of the importance of offering flexible working and other policies and support to help employees thrive.

This evidence of progress was echoed by Jo Hewitt, Partner at Baker McKenzie, who described the benefits her team had experienced by working with a colleague who had taken an extensive break from her legal practice. Not only did clients benefit from a different skillset and approach to their work, Jo and the rest of her team felt they were stronger as a result of working with someone who was bringing different strengths and experiences to the table

New technologies, new sectors and new categories of products are opening up new opportunities for lawyers and other legal roles faster than ever before

Technology is now more significant to the practice of law than ever before. Legal technologist Jenifer Swallow, described the opportunity not only in terms of new consumer legal offerings but also the growing adoption of technology in firms and in-house teams to manage work, organise documents, encourage cost efficiencies and manage risks.

As technology expands, more and more new roles are being created for legal operations specialists, legal project managers, legal design experts, knowledge managers and trainers. And this emphasis on technology and automation is not limited to law, which means that there is increasing demand for data privacy specialists and commercial lawyers who specialise in negotiating IT & technology contracts.

This is a huge opportunity for returners to the profession – so much new technology, new ways of working and even new legislation and regulation means that everyone is having to get up to speed quickly, levelling the playing field for those who have taken time away from legal practice.

“You have to own your own awesomeness”

Thank you to Laura Barrell, senior legal counsel at Norgine and chair of the Women Solicitors’ Network, who has taken two breaks of her own and perfectly summed up the advice we heard from our coaches and expert guests. The recipe for a successful return is as follows; one part your previous legal skills and expertise, one part your innate strengths and the experiences outside the law that have honed these yet further, one part believing in the value of what you have to offer and one part taking an open mind into every opportunity. Making a return after a break isn’t necessarily easy, but it is easier than you think. Celebrate your strengths, seek out opportunities and enjoy the journey to the next step in your career in law.

If you are interested in joining the next programme edition of the Legal Returners’ Springboard, you can register here.

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