For 8 years I worked for a FTSE 250 manufacturing company as their first in-house lawyer, and as a member of the senior executive team. I was lucky enough to work 4 days a week when it was very rare. Having moved out to Hertfordshire I took a career break after the birth of my third child. After 7 years at home I re-trained, qualified and worked in a new profession
As a family mediator for a few years. It was challenging, interesting and rewarding, but lonely (working from home except when meeting clients) and made me realise how well suited I am to working as an in-house lawyer, and how much I enjoy it. As well as helping me regain my confidence, I believe my family mediation experience gave me enhanced skills – my EQ and softer skills developed, and learning to adopt a step by step approach was very helpful.
My first step was to attend a returner course for solicitors. It was then a major commitment to bring myself up to date with the relevant legal developments (through a leading on-line legal know-how provider) and to try various initiatives – there were plenty of setbacks and dead ends along the way. However, I kept going and remained positive (mostly!) focusing on interim, part-time in-house roles. (I felt interim roles could give me more options, particularly as a returner).
6 months after the returner course I was offered my first interim in-house role. It was a great start and I quickly adapted to changes in the office environment (open plan, quieter, more emails and instant messaging and fewer telephone conversations, no admin support). I was soon ready for a new challenge and after 5 months joined a global company to provide maternity leave cover for 9 months as part of a European legal team of 10 which I loved. I was sorry when that came to an end, but have recently completed an assignment with the legal team of a FTSE 100 company. I have found all my roles through recruitment agencies (including Ten2Two which specialises in flexible working) and through Lawyers on Demand which uses freelance lawyers to provide a flexible resource to in-house legal teams.
What have I learnt? At the returner course I had to think of a USP quickly and mine was being adaptable and embracing change. This has turned out to be accurate, both in terms of industry sector (FMCG, telecoms/cloud services and retail) and work content (preparing a company for sale, corporate and regulatory, commercial contracts). It is a privilege and a challenge to be able to work in different environments, and appeals to my sense of adventure – I have learnt a lot and stayed motivated and enthusiastic. My 3 recent roles have been 3-3.5 days per week but I expect there to be times when it is difficult to find interesting part-time work – it is still hard to come by. I will take advantage of those times to pursue other interests, and to spend more time with my children and elderly parents and on my voluntary roles.
My advice is to be determined in pursuing what you want and not to be afraid of trying new areas, even if it is not exactly what you think you are looking for. No experience is wasted and you will learn a lot along the way.
UPDATE: Jill joined Ebiquity plc in 2015 in a permanent role as Corporate Counsel. She spoke at our Conference and passed on these points:
- You may have to be brave and move outside your comfort zone – I started 4 new legal roles in less than 2 years. It’s tough proving yourself that many times, especially having had 12 years away from the business world.
- I’ve found all my returner roles stressful at times. However, the sometimes painful process has definitely been worth it.
- Ebiquity plc recruited 2 very experienced lawyers each working 20 hours a week to support the General Counsel and Company Secretary – we started on the same day. We have more than 40 years post qualification experience between the 3 of us – it makes good business sense.
- A very practical point. Take the earliest interview date possible. In one case the company stopped interviewing after they saw me. In another case I was on jury service during the interview weeks. The company agreed to see me early and I believe that was to my advantage.
- Returners are often more positive, motivated and enthusiastic than other people, which is great for any business.