Routes back to law: Setting up in Private Practice

There are many routes back to work after a career break. Taking a more entrepreneurial route may allow you to create your own culture and flexible working practices. Katie Rainscourt, our guest blogger this week, offers the benefit of her experience of establishing her own family law firm. Her advice is equally relevant to other professionals thinking about setting up in private practice. And read to the end if you’d like a return to law mentor.

If you are or have been a
solicitor, are you using your legal skills to your best advantage?

I am managing partner of
Rainscourt Family Law Solicitors, a firm of solicitors based in Milton Keynes, working exclusively in family law.
I am delighted to be able to write a blog for Women Returners, and I do so
because I would like to bring to your attention the option of establishing your
own firm as an alternative option to joining an existing firm elsewhere.
Many skilled solicitors are
currently lost to the profession when they decide that they are unable to
return. One option that these individuals may not have considered is that of
establishing their own firm of solicitors, instead of returning to the traditional
firm environment, or choosing to opt out of the profession altogether. My firm
is a signatory to the Law Society diversity and inclusion charter, and I hope
that this blog may encourage returners to consider this alternative route, and lead
to greater inclusion within our profession.
Is this an option for you?
In terms of whether this is an
option for you, think about the area of law you practise or practised in. Do
you have skills that people will pay to access, and ask for advice from you, in
your area of expertise?
Your first step will be to sketch
out your business plan:
How familiar are you with the market in which you operate or
operated?
What is your product? What is
your brand? 
Where will you base your firm? 
What area of law is your expertise
focused in, and how can you best offer this to your clients? 
This will require
in-depth planning and research on your part. Think about your existing contacts or friends who may be able to help
you with your brainstorming.  These contacts
need not necessarily come from the legal world, but may come from a finance or business
background. Think of how best to promote
yourself and your skills, and what will be unique to you and your business.
There will be many decisions that
you need to make, but ultimately, you may end up with a product that you take a
great deal of pride in, and which will enable you to make best use of your legal
skills.
Mentoring
I would be delighted to act as a mentor
for a returner to law, or to speak to any of you who are interested in taking this
path, so please do get in touch with me via Julianne or Katerina at info@womenreturners.com.

How to avoid the Top 10 Return to Work Job Search mistakes

Over the years that I have been working with returners, I’ve noticed how many women make the same job search mistakes that can completely derail their return to work. To stop you falling into the same traps, here’s my summary of the Top 10 and a few tips on how to avoid them.

1. Relying on headhunters and recruitment agencies to find you a role
Headhunters and other agencies are paid for filling specific vacancies and if your profile doesn’t exactly match they won’t be interested. And a long career break labels you as a risky candidate. Do let any headhunter contacts know that you are looking for work, & look for agencies sympathetic to returners, just don’t make this your sole strategy or be deterred by the negative reception most will give you.

2. Sitting at home scanning LinkedIn, job boards and website for vacancies
Only an estimated 20-30% of vacancies are ever advertised, so if this is your approach to finding a role, you are missing out on the the majority of positions that are filled through recommendation, word of mouth and former colleagues. To access the ‘hidden job market’ you need to be more active, start networking and tell everyone you meet about your search.
3. Defining yourself too narrowly by your previous role
It’s easy to restrict ourselves to roles similar to our last job title or specialist qualification. This narrows your options and can make you feel that you’re not qualified for any role that fits with your life now. Instead, look out for roles that ask for the broader skills and strengths you possess within fields that interest you.
4. Sending one application at a time…
If you get excited about having found The Ideal Role and wait to see what happens with it before making other applications, you could be waiting a very long time. Hiring decisions are rarely quick, company priorities can change and you may not ultimately get the job for a variety of reasons. Keep networking, and seeking and applying for other opportunities in the meantime, until you actually sign the contract.

5. … Or making scatter gun applications

Don’t fire off applications or direct approaches to everyone you can think of. You waste time applying for roles that aren’t a good fit for you and you’ll appear unfocused in your application & under-motivated in an interview. Decide what to target and treat each application with care, researching the organisation and the specific requirements of the role and tailoring your application accordingly.

6. Applying for roles that are too junior

If your confidence in your abilities is low, you may apply for ‘less demanding’ roles as a way of easing yourself back into work. The trouble is that you will appear over-qualified to the hiring manager and are likely to become rapidly frustrated once you’re back up to speed. If you have a strong reason for choosing this route, clearly explain the rationale in your application.

7. Looking just for part-time or flexible roles
You might have decided that your job needs to be part-time or flexible. However many employers will consider flexible working ‘for the right candidate’ even though they don’t state it in the job ad. Consider whether the content of the role appeals and whether there could be a business case to do it flexibly.


8. Apologising for your career break

Explain the reason for your break on your CV (eg. parental career break) and in interviews and then don’t dwell on it, justify it or apologise for it!
9. Undervaluing what you’ve done in your break
If you have done something that has built your broader skills or opened new perspectives to you during your break, this is valuable to a potential employer, so don’t minimise or ignore it on your CV.

10. Not asking for feedback after rejections

When you are rejected after online tests or interviews it is easy to blame yourself and to become dispirited. By requesting feedback you can find out what you need to work on to make future applications stronger.
Other useful posts:
Posted by Katerina

Identifying your best return-to-work supporters?

What do we normally do when we’re thinking about making changes in our lives? Our natural instinct is often to talk things through with friends and family – to get their opinion and test out our ideas. I remember many mornings spent discussing future plans with other mothers over coffee when I was on career break.
It can be useful to chat about your return to work ideas – setting up a business, returning to your old field, retraining, or whatever your inspiration may be. As you speak about your thoughts, this can help them to become more concrete and move you to action.
But this can also be a risky strategy as your trusted friends might not be the supporters you need to develop your fledgling ideas. If they pour cold water on your tentative plans, this can be a major knock to your confidence, raising more doubts and worries in your mind and stopping you moving forward to action.
These are some reactions potential returners have told me they received:
From other at-home mums: “What do you want to go back to work for – you’re so lucky to be able to be at home?”
“I can’t imagine having the energy to work. All the working mums I know are exhausted”
From family & ex-colleagues: “I never saw you as a [creative person/entrepreneur/mature student ..]”
From partners: “Well, if you’re absolutely sure that’s what you want to do …”
“If you think you can manage that and the kids without getting too stressed …”
There’s a big difference between these generalised negative comments, which can make you want to give up, rather than helpful specific questions that encourage you to reality check your ideas. If you’re facing comments like these, rather than simply taking them at face value, it’s worth putting them in context. Here are a few things to bear in mind:
  • Your friends who are also on career break may want to keep you ‘on their team’. They don’t want to lose you to the workplace!
  • Your plans to return to work may raise doubts in their minds about the decisions they’ve taken. When we experience ‘cognitive¬†dissonance’, where our actions don’t directly align with our beliefs (eg I should be using my education but I’m not in paid work), we feel uncomfortable. They may subconsciously try to convince you that it’s too hard to be a working mother to prove to themselves that their decision is correct.
  • Your ex-colleagues tend to define you by the role you used to have. This is similar to the cognitive bias called ‘functional fixedness’ where we find it hard to see familiar objects in a different light. Which is a real advantage if you’re returning to the same field, but limiting if you’re considering a new direction.
  • Growing up within a family we all often have set roles (the smart one, the creative one etc). If you’re stepping into a sibling’s role, they may feel challenged or disorientated.
  • Your partner and children naturally will prefer the status quo if it’s comfortable for them. Accept they may not be your cheerleaders initially at least!
To balance the naysayers, think about creating a group of return-to-work supporters:

1. Identify & seek out friends and family members who are encouraging and positive and fill you with a sense of possibility
2. Partner with one or more women who are also looking to return to work
3. Seek out a mentor – find a woman in your field who has successfully returned after a career break and ask for advice.
As our network grows we’re thinking about setting up a return-to-work support group. Also a number of successful returners have offered to be to mentors. Would you find either of these useful? In what format (eg.LinkedIn)? Let us know in the comments below or on info@womenreturners.com.
Posted by Julianne