Eleanor Ludlam is one of our Back to Law Ambassadors and is a senior associate at DAC Beachcroft LLP. In this article she details how she came back to the profession, speaks on the importance of support and how confidence is key.
I am a Senior Associate at DAC Beachcroft LLP, and am also one of five Back to Law Ambassadors for the Law Society. Our role is to assist people who are returning to law after a career break and to challenge stereotypes within the legal industry in respect of returners.
I trained at Davies Arnold Cooper LLP and qualified into commercial litigation. After I had my first child, I returned to work full-time and found my absence from my son hard to manage. After having my second child, I sought to negotiate part-time hours as I did not want to repeat the mistakes I felt I had made with my firstborn. /However, this was not to be so I resigned, albeit reluctantly, and went on to have a third child and a four year career break.
During my time off, I was approached by the Director of HR at DACB to see whether I was interested in re-starting my career. I had never stopped wanting to work as a lawyer and so spoke with her and was pleasantly surprised by how flexible both she and the firm were in respect of me wanting part time hours and with some working from home.
I was ultimately offered a role in the Financial Institutions Group, practising in information and regulatory law on the hours I wanted and with some home working. Although I had never considered being an advisory lawyer, I was open to it and returned to the firm on a fixed-term basis. Soon after joining the team, I asked to be made permanent and this was supported. I have now been back a little over 18 months and feel I have largely got the balance just right. I see plenty of my children and they feel I am present but I have also been able to progress my career, such that I have recently been promoted to Senior Associate.
My biggest challenge when I returned was the feeling of having to start again. Given my lack of experience in my new practice area, I joined my team as a newly qualified solicitor, despite having qualified in 2010. Although I understood the logic behind this, it was still hard to accept having to start afresh given my previous experience. However, with great support from my team, I quickly progressed to Associate, and now Senior Associate.
Although there was no formal support structure when I returned, I found help and encouragement across the board at DACB, not just from my immediate team. Colleagues in other departments reached out to me, HR, IT (patiently getting me back up to speed on the firm's technology), to name but a few, have all been amazing in making the transition back to law a smooth and positive one.
In recognition of the fact that there was no formal support system, I helped the firm set up its own Back to Work programme where we provide mentors to people who are returning after a period of time off. All of the mentors have relevant experience and have received targeted mentoring training on the subject of returners. We are already receiving excellent feedback from mentees and I believe it will continue to be invaluable to those people who now return to the firm and it also sets DACB apart from other big law firms.
Whenever I speak about issues for returners, I highlight that one of the key obstacles for a returner is their confidence. Historically, I viewed this as being an initial hurdle about the individual's fear of not being good enough, or of having forgotten the law. I felt that the issue was overcome once the individual had made their return and could see that their legal skills were still there. However, I now view confidence as a more pervasive issue and one which is ongoing because once you have returned and realised your legal knowledge is still there, you need to have the confidence to say that you want flexibility, that you have children, that it is a juggle and that it is not always easy. A good firm is one which will listen and respond to its employees and develop practices, such as agile working, which are hugely beneficial to returners who often require the greatest flexibility. I am immensely lucky as I work for a team of people who are understanding and supportive, as is DACB.
My advice to anyone considering a return to law or a change in practice area is to remember what your strengths are and to be clear that they have not disappeared because you have had a break or want to change direction. Be confident about your ability and remain confident about your priorities when you return. Be open to new areas of law - you might find you enjoy them more than your old practice area, as I have done.