You may, at some point, decide to take a break from law practice for any number of reasons such as to raise children, care for sick family members, pursue more education, try another business, teach, write, run for office, or travel the world. When you leave, you may hope you never return. But life happens and, sometimes, unforeseen circumstances make it necessary to reenter the legal marketplace. Therefore, if you plan on leaving the practice of law for a period of time, even if you think it’s permanent, keep your options open just in case you need to return.
There are steps you can take before you leave and while on hiatus (even if it’s for years), that will make it easier if and when you find yourself job hunting and transitioning back into law.
- Maintain ties. Regardless of the situation, leave your legal employer on good terms. Join the firm’s “alumni” group, if there is one, so you can stay in touch professionally. Link with as many of your colleagues as you can and add them to your social media network. This allows you to keep track of them as they move jobs or progress in their careers while you’re engaged in other pursuits. If you contemplate returning to your employer at some time in the foreseeable future, communicate that fact before you leave, and see if there’s some way you can maintain some sort of affiliation, such as on a consulting or contract/project basis, during your hiatus. Even if you think you never want to practice law again, don’t burn bridges with your employer or colleagues. They will be important connections if you ever need to return, or choose to take a related career path.
- Retain Bar admissions. Despite any desires to avoid lawyering for the rest of your life, don’t let your bar membership lapse because you never know why or when you might need it. Most state bar associations have an inactive status, which allows you to reactivate your membership in the future without retaking the Bar Exam. You pay reduced membership rates and, in most if not all states, are exempt from continuing education requirements during your inactive period. Reactivating your membership usually entails only paying full active membership dues and completing the continuing education requirements for the current year. If you return to practice in the same state, you avoid the significant hurdle of retaking the exam.
- Stay involved. While you’re on hiatus, remain engaged in the legal community the best you can. Even if you’re not required to take continuing education courses, you might want to do so periodically, anyway, to keep up with practice developments. Continue reading legal publications online regularly (or, minimally, scan the headlines) to stay abreast of marketplace trends. Maintain your professional affiliations, including local bar associations and professional organizations, and college or law school alumni groups. You absolutely must keep up with technology. Stay involved with your business connections on social media. You don’t want to fall off their radar screens completely.
- Keep learning. Research jobs you're interested in for the future and note the skills they require. Then, during your hiatus, volunteer strategically where you can learn (if necessary) and practice those skills. As much as possible, join and actively participate in community organizations, and, if taking time out to raise a family, get involved with your children’s school, sports, and other activities. Undertake leadership and fundraising roles, teach classes, pursue in entrepreneurial endeavors (possibly from home), socialize, and mentor. Keep a success file where you track your numbers and results: how many people you managed and dollars you raised, number of hours you worked, and the differences you/your group made. Toss in copies of any press coverage, thank you’s, recognition letters or certificates, and other documentation of your achievements.
By staying involved in the business world, even tangentially, continuously learning, and keeping records of your activities, if and when it’s time to reenter the legal marketplace, you’ll have the basics in place.