updated on 28 January 2020
From taking care of a new child to recharging your batteries in a sabbatical, taking extended leave is an increasingly common part of many lawyers' professional journeys. But returning to work can be a stressful experience for many and comes with a whole host of challenges: re-establishing your status in a firm, rebuilding client relationships, familiar faces gone and new faces appearing. You may have had some monumental changes in your personal life during this time which can also have a real impact on a return to legal life.
Some of these common issues that you may have to deal with can include the following.
Renewing and establishing client relationships
Perhaps you are concerned that during the period when you were away, your clients were looked after by another lawyer, which they may now prefer to stay with. This can feel like a real blow and may mean starting from scratch in building up new client relationships. Alternatively, you may find that, although they had no issues with your replacement, they still want to return to you when they find out that you are back at work, which comes with its own challenges of rebuilding relationships.
So how can you re-establish your position in the business? It’s no secret that the legal profession is particularly competitive, both between competing firms and for lawyers working in the same firm. It’s very understandable that you may be concerned that others will have been impressing superiors when you were away, effectively trying to take advantage of your absence. While this may be a scary prospect, it’s also highly possible and you need to consider that your return provides the business with refreshing ideas and a unique approach, particularly with the legal sphere’s renewed focus on mindfulness and quality of life.
Balancing the changes in your personal life with your role
When returning to the law with a change in your personal life, it’s likely to have an impact on the way you work. Children need to be dropped off and collected at a certain time or elderly parents may need to be attended to – this can massively affect the hours which you can work. Recovering from certain illnesses may also have an effect on your ability to work long hours. In these cases, it’s absolutely worth having a conversation with your firm on working flexibly from now on.
While some lawyers may be able to overcome these changes and balance all simultaneously, sometimes the transition back is actually just too much and can very understandably lead to a re-think about your career. Could going it solo be a better choice? But this has difficulties of its own. What are the opportunities open to lawyers wanting to take a slightly different path? What are the risks and rewards of each option at this stage? Here are some below.
Full time – For many lawyers, they have no plan other than to return to full-time working and relish returning to the full-on work environment. Yet if you need more flexibility to cope with care needs back home, it’s worth asking your firm if you can work full-time but on an agile basis.
Part time – This does not mean that you are less important or valuable to a firm - merely that you are choosing a working pattern that suits you and your family, and you are no less committed during the hours that you work.
Becoming a self-employed consultant – With this model of working, you work in an established law business, but remain self-employed so can choose to work with more than one business and to work the hours that you wish. The firm will provide support while leaving you flexibility in the way that you work.
Starting your own practice – This can be a huge step in making your mark in the legal industry. Although this may be a daunting prospect, setting up your own practice can provide you with more flexibility and provide a working environment best suited to you.
Working freelance – This is the initiative of the Solicitors Regulation Authority to try to introduce more flexible ways of working. This is much less rigid and controlled than setting up your own practice.
Working in-house – This may be an attractive option if more flexibility is the goal. You would also be working with many individuals across the business, which can be hugely beneficial in developing relationship-building skills.
While big life changes may not come easy, businesses are increasingly attracted by people who have an interesting background and have more to them than purely law. Life experiences are now recognised as adding texture to lawyers and can prove to be a huge benefit when selling oneself to a new client or future employer. Big career changes after returning to work can be intimidating, but these so often come with many positives to take forward into your next stage of legal life.
Linda Lamb is a solicitor and director at LSL Family Law.