Once you decide to return to law practice after a taking a break, such as to raise children, write the Great American Novel, or pursue other personal or professional interests, you need to determine the type of position you seek, assess your transferable skills and brush up if necessary, and let the world know you’re looking. There are simple, concrete steps you can take to help you start your search.
Even if you were satisfied with and doing well in the position you held before you took a break, circumstances may have changed in the meantime. Research current opportunities and their requirements by reading trade journals and websites, checking out industry groups and blogs on social media, talking with friends and former colleagues and, perhaps, contacting a recruiter. Then, assess your career desires, realistic job options, and whether your current skill set is appropriate for what you now seek. If you need to update, enhance, or add capabilities, take the appropriate steps to do so.
One of the most effective ways to find out about opportunities and to let the world know that you are ready to reenter the workplace is to talk to people. Mix and mingle where other lawyers or potential employers congregate. Get out there in person and take business cards with a relevant title such as “estate planning attorney” or “business litigator,” and listing your cellphone, email, and LinkedIn profile. Strive to attend a certain number of potential networking events each month, do pro bono or voluntary work with law-related non-profits or bar associations, and update your legal skills through attending CLE classes in person (rather than online) where you can meet your participants and presenters.
Join or rejoin professional organizations and get active. The best groups are those that meet or have events regularly, where attendee introductions are part of the program, nametags are provided, and member directories are available. Any activity centered around a shared interest or common background, where there’s repeated contact, helps build familiarity and provides opportunities for follow-up and, thus, maximizes your visibility.
Gather information and contacts
Look for role models and mentors as well as for contacts. Prepare a micro-pitch to break the ice. In just a few sentences, you want to introduce yourself, let people know what you do and/or seek. It should be brief but include enough information to make a connection. You want your micro-pitch to be clear, clever, memorable, and conversation-starter. For example: “Hi, I’m Laurie Lawyer. I was a corporate associate with a mid-sized law firm and, for the last several years, have been writing the Great American Novel while raising my three kids. I’m looking to return to the practice of law, possibly in-house or with another firm.” Ask for informational interviews: “I’ve decided to return to the practice of law, and I’m exploring [your chosen practice area]. Would you be willing to meet with me for 15 minutes to talk about how you got into the field?” Ask for advice and suggestions; do not directly ask for a job, which can be a conversation killer.
Increase your professional presence on social media
If you have been using social media for personal purposes, set up separate accounts with a different username for business purposes, and keep them separate. Create or update your business profiles on social media platforms with a professional headshot and a summary of your relevant skills. You can call yourself an “experienced legal professional” or, alternatively, a “consultant”, if you handled some business or legal projects during your hiatus. If you volunteered in a non-law capacity during your break from law practice, describe your experiences in terms of business skills. Reach out and connect with your former colleagues and business contacts to let them know you’re exploring a return to law practice and describe the position you seek. Remember that their impression of you may be frozen in time so you will need to catch them up on what you’ve been doing.
Writing a blog (and/or writing guest posts on other professional blogs) is another way to utilize social media for transitioning back into the legal field. Blogging allows you to garner attention as an expert with substantive knowledge in a practice area, demonstrate your writing and analytical skills, and convince prospective employers you’re are on top of changes in your niche. Consistently use several social media platforms for posting links to your blog entries and other relevant news articles to increase your visibility. Comment on others’ posts, as well, to further raise your profile.
Polish your resume and cover letter
Update your re-entry résumé, which should account for gaps, tell a consistent and easily understood story, and state only the relevant information, prioritizing your transferrable skills. It must feel current and, most importantly, show your commitment to the practice of law. Rather than including an “Objective” statement at the top of your résumé, start with a summary of your relevant expertise and the type of position you seek, such as “Real estate transactional attorney with both development and financing experience seeking an Of Counsel position.”
Use a hybrid format résumé which highlights your relevant and transferable skills, while minimizing gaps. This type of resume combines the attributes of both the functional and chronological resume formats by first describing your applicable capabilities and then listing your past employment with dates but without separate duties for each.
You can’t hide the gap in your job history and you shouldn’t try. Call yourself a solo practitioner or consultant if you handled any projects, even occasionally and whether paid or pro bono, during your hiatus, and list sample engagements. Otherwise, “Community Involvement” may suffice, with a description, in business terms, of activities and results obtained. For example, “Spearheaded project to save endangered trees, and plant and care for community gardens at five local schools. Raised $5,000; recruited and managed 30 workers; and interfaced with local business, educational, non-profit, and governmental entities.” Avoid, if possible, referring to yourself as a “volunteer”, as that emphasizes the fact you were unpaid. Most employers don't value skills gained from volunteer work as highly as they do those garnered during paid employment, but it is a way of showing that you made effective use of your time away from active law practice.
If you were fully occupied away from any even tangentially business- or law-related activity during your leave, succinctly state what you did during that period without divulging personal details. Be prepared to discuss in your cover letter and interview how your sabbatical brought you to the point where you are ready to reenter law practice, and that you are committed to the work you are seeking to do.
Your cover letter also should state your employment objective clearly, and describe your unique skill set and how it can benefit the employer. If you are stepping back onto the same career path, say are eager to return to what you love doing. If you are heading in a new direction, emphasize how you are excited about the challenge and your qualifications for doing so successfully. Be clear that you fully considered your options and know this is what you want to do. Mention when you will be available to start.
Develop interview strategies
Anticipate and address potential employer's concerns. Be ready to talk about any employment gaps in an upbeat, non-defensive, and professional manner. Answer matter-of-factly that you took some time out to raise your children, take care of an elderly parent, or handle a personal health issue, but now you’re ready and eager to get back to work. While you needn’t provide details regarding your health situation or elder- or childcare arrangements, state that it’s handled and you’re available to perform all aspects of the job. Discuss how your skills can benefit the employer. Look at your pre-leave law experience, any business or teaching activities during the hiatus from law practice, and your community involvement. For example, your fundraising experience means you’re good at asking for business; any leadership or committee work demonstrates you’re a team player, developed communication and project management skills, created a network of contacts, and can work within budgets; and your speaking, writing, and entrepreneurial skills are directly transferrable to building a law practice.
These steps can help you make a legal career comeback and show how your non-traditional career trajectory makes you a value-added candidate for the position you seek.