"Sometimes our first and greatest dare is asking for support" - Brenè Brown, Daring Greatly
After 23 years out of the profession, I have secured a role as a family law solicitor working for a provincial law firm.
If I had asked enough questions of the right people I believe I would have been in employment months ago.
A straightforward trajectory from university into a career as a family solicitor in provincial law was left behind in 1995 after the arrival of my first child and an international relocation.
A further three children in quick succession and my life as a solicitor was firmly in the rear view mirror!
My journey has been tortuous, frustrating, costly and humbling. To practise once again I had to initially relocate back to the UK, as my qualifications were not recognised overseas.
It has been a steep learning curve and, like all learning curves, at times painful - but in the long run beneficial.
My years outside the profession and years spent living abroad give me a wide perspective and the ability to see a bigger picture.
This, along with the habit of decades of doing things for others with no guarantee of return, set me up for my return journey!
Family law became my specialism because I find job satisfaction from helping people. When I returned to the UK this belief in my ability to help became translated into a mixed array of job applications, from working with children to college and university students.
I met with a response of ‘clear passion and commitment’ to the needs of children and young people but was unable to tick qualification boxes.
Initial feedback from solicitors working in the legal profession and recruitment agents gave a clear message that I had no hope of being given a position as a solicitor, due to age, years outside the profession and marketplace realities.
With a heavy heart I decided to ‘formally’ engage once again with the profession and attended a returners’ event by the Law Society. The level of kinship and support offered by practitioners at this gave me a keen sense of optimism and possibilities.
My confidence breakthrough came as a result of joining and attending events by Resolution (formerly the Family Law Association). The opportunity to mix with other family practitioners and talk informally to course providers who were also practitioners enabled me to believe that my previous experience had given me skills of current value.
Many specialist gatherings later and much reading later, I am committed to a path to provide a client and child-centric practice and plan to qualify as a mediator to extend my skillset further.
With clear vision as to my future role, its importance to me and its value in the marketplace, decisions became easy. There was nevertheless a high commitment of time, energy and expense to return to the law. It has been necessary to sacrifice short-term financial gain for the longer term objective of achieving the role I wanted as a practising solicitor.
I decided to become a Back to Law Ambassador as I have first-hand experience of the issues and challenges that people face when trying to return to a career in law, and I am determined to share my insights and hindsight to hopefully help other returners feel anything is possible if you stay motivated and focused.
I will not hide the fact that taking this Ambassador role made me realise how dangerous my own and others’ assumptions are. It caused me a confidence crisis, as the role requires visibility and a presence on the net.
Despite my initial hesitations, I then embraced being an ambassador as I realised these were exactly the kind of insecurities I needed to work on and overcome in order to secure the job I really wanted!
I can now see that returning to the Law is not merely about the destination, but is in fact a very valuable journey in which there are many lessons to be learnt.
For as hard as the journey may seem, for me it was an opportunity to acquire the very skills that a progressive employer will look for: confidence, clarity of purpose, creativity, flexibility and adaptability.
So, embrace the journey, don’t let it overwhelm you. Stay focused, learn as much as you can from it, and remember you are not alone. Bon voyage!
Camilla's top tips
This is what I have learnt and continue to learn on my journey to return to practice:
- Don’t let other people’s feedback define you. A professional’s off-the-record view is subjective and depends upon the type of business organisations that they have worked in, their specialism and the geographical location where they have practised.
- If you do not have the habit of asking questions, then learn to do so quickly. Whilst some prospective employers may appreciate direct approaches, the right recruiter may be able to open doors to opportunities. Do not be afraid to engage with both and ask them how you can maximise your chances to be successful in securing the job you want.
- Be creative, proactive and flexible. A business needs to know that you have a learning mindset. If you have successfully marketed your own unique selling point, a business will know that you have the ability to market their firm.
- Brand 'you' - getting known.
To create brand 'you', I’m afraid there is no way around it, you have to network and utilise a LinkedIn profile. Even if some roles do not require an active LinkedIn profile, it will be difficult to anticipate when this is the case and so opportunities may be missed. Being present on LinkedIn indicates your commitment to return to the profession and your willingness to engage with others. It compliments and runs alongside traditional networking, which you should also invest time in.
- Make sure you work on your confidence and resilience. It is possible you will need to weather a storm of applications, not being responded to, or, if you do hear back, possibly many rejections. The Law Society are offering a raft of innovative and creative support to you now that I urge you to take a look at sooner rather than later.