Next week, we kick off our second Reignite Academy programme, for lawyers returning to private practice after a career hiatus.  After the elation of getting a job offer, the hard work really begins and part of that is managing the transition: getting back up to speed technically, building new networks, learning new skills, fitting in.

 Whilst I don’t suggest our candidates have spent the summer going to festivals, interrailing and sleeping it all off, it strikes me that they share some common challenges with teenagers returning to higher education after the long summer break.

Take my friend’s daughter.  She begins her A level studies at a new college.  Whilst she’s studied some of her subjects before, those long summer holidays mean she’s pretty rusty.  And she’s taking Economics, which is totally new for her: she’ll be starting that from scratch.

The college is also very different from her previous school.  They use a lot more technology, the dress code is different, she doesn’t know many other students and has never met most of the teaching staff, though a couple of them did teach at her old school a few years ago.

She is very well aware that she’s going to need some new disciplines and routines and is very conscious that she has a limited time to prove herself.  Those exams will come round all too quickly. Whilst I’m sure she would admit to being just a little bit terrified, she’s also really excited about what the future holds.  Not just the next two years but what they might lead to.  

Along with providing training for our Reignite Associates, we spend time with line partners to talk about their role in making sure the transition back to private practice is a success.  Some associates are returning from a total career break, others are reigniting their City careers after time. It is a transition for all of them.

Since many of them are likely to be parents of teenage children, perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to imagine what they would expect of their offspring’s college head and teaching staff. 

Here are some practical suggestions to ensure a smooth and successful transition:

Help them create a learning plan.  You wouldn’t present students with a full curriculum and expect them to get on with it.  Break the learning down; create short term wins; ensure that each week the associate can tick off an achievement, however small.  We’re big fans of the Progress Principle which shows that the more frequently people experience a sense of progress, the more likely they are to be productive in the long run.

Be there on day one, week one.  It’s a big deal this new start.  You were probably involved in the interview process; you will have been a factor in them accepting an offer.  It takes courage to make this step, seeing you on day one and knowing you’re committed is a big deal.

Provide a support network. In a college environment, tutors, forms, houses, class groups are all an essential part of the pastoral care which is essential to providing a safe and productive learning environment.  At work, mentors, buddies, sponsors and access to relevant networks can play the same role. Make sure they are in place.

Manage work allocation and workload.  Setting a timetable for the term is not possible in a work environment, but it’s critically important to establish how work will be allocated.  Who provides the associate with work and at what level; how do they flag issues of over/under capacity. Not having enough to do is just as bad as having too much.  Think Goldilocks on this one.

Clarify the assessment process.  No-one’s going to be sitting an exam at the end of term, but how will you judge success?  What measures will you use and how will you provide feedback along the way. Clarity on this removes a huge amount of stress and leaves the Associate free to concentrate on performing rather than second guessing what’s expected.

Ask about the “Personal Statement”.  College students need to write them as part of the application process for university.  They cover interests, experience, ambitions. Ask the Reignite Associate about themselves – their networks, their experience within and outside the legal sector, their interests and ambitions.  You might be surprised just how much value they can add alongside their technical prowess.

Want them to succeed. Colleges have league tables to worry about.  For our Associates, it’s personal. Research by She’s Back found that the number one thing people think will impact their success on returning to work is “a manager who wants me to succeed.”  Have some skin in the game. Be in contact. Care about their success. Your business will reap the rewards.

The author is co-founder and CEO of the Reignite Academy, which provides opportunities for lawyers to return to practice after a career hiatus. Applications are now open for the next programme. 


  • Lisa Unwin

    CEO & Co-Founder of the Reignite Academy

    Lisa Unwin, CEO & Co-founder of the Reignite Academy, helping women have long term, sustainable careers. Supporting returners. Banging the drum for women at work. Writing, consulting, speaking, changing things. Mother. Reader. Cyclist. Skier. Co-author of She's Back: Your Guide to Returning to Work