After reading Natural Sciences and Law at Cambridge, I rode the crest of the late 80’s boom and won a training contract followed by a post qualification job in the tax department of a Magic Circle firm. I fell pregnant soon after changing jobs in 1993, meaning I had no maternity rights. The lack of any guarantee of my job back, as well as wanting to get away from very long City hours, prompted me to look around for a change – back then, part time in a professional role in the City was not an option.
And so I became a science teacher at a boys’ public school. My job came with a house for all the family. Living on site allowed me to leave for work at a leisurely 8.15am, to be home at lunchtimes and to see the children again by 4.15pm, to feed, play with and bathe them, even if I was marking after they went to bed.
Four years later, we moved back to London for my husband’s job and I took a career break, not least because my post-tax salary from teaching only just equalled the nanny’s wages. Once both children were settled in full-time school, I looked around for work. I was lucky and hit a mini-boom again when the City was crying out for tax lawyers and hirers were prepared to be flexible to acquire one. I was able to stand out a little by having also completed my Chartered Tax Adviser exams some years earlier, but mainly I was able to get a foothold by being prepared to start in a new area: Tonnage Tax was just coming in and so nobody knew any more (or any less) about it than I did. I was, therefore, able to offer consultancy work to a City Firm in this area. I did that part-time for about a year and it gave me confidence that I could use the new technology (computers had come in to law firms during my break) and that I still had valuable skills.
After the consultancy ended, I had another year at home with the children. Following that, I applied for a full-time tax role at a different City firm. Actually, I applied for the more typical “mummy role” of Professional Support Lawyer, but the firm persuaded me to do fee earning work instead, as, once more, I was prepared to enter a then new area of tax (Stamp Duty Land Tax). Consequently, as with my previous return, I knew no more and no less than anyone else at the start and so faced no particular disadvantage from having been out of the workforce.
After a year I felt up to speed and was able to negotiate a reduction to 4 days a week, on a strict 9-5 basis.
Life is never simple and some time later I took another career break, of 2 years, for family reasons, after which I phoned a few recruitment agents about part-time legal work. They uniformly told me that the City law firms would not be interested and refused to put forward my CV for any roles. I doubted that was true and so short-circuited the agencies by applying direct to a City firm’s website – I picked the one with the easiest commute from home. I was taken on by this very first firm I contacted, with a brilliant contract – 4 days per week, term time only. This time, I suspect I got the job partly because I was prepared to go into a dying area that more lawyers were keen to leave but which was still generating work. The HR people commented that they were amazed they didn’t get more direct applications as, even though they didn’t advertise for part-time lawyers, they were happy to take them on.
My advice is to be brave, remember your legal skills retain their value, consider practising in a slightly different area (preferably one with demand) and most importantly, if you don’t have a standard linear “male” CV then bypass the agencies and speak straight to the firms you are interested in.