Are you on a break from your law practice, perhaps because you have young kids? Maybe you are thinking of going back to work sometime soon, but it seems like a huge undertaking. I was once there, too. However, there are things you can do while you are still on a break to make the transition easier.
Stay current on your field as much as possible.
Even when my kids were babies, I always tried to make it to CLEs in my practice area. Just do it. You already know that there will be the predictable conversations and introductions. Get over the fact that you aren’t working on an interesting case that you can use for conversational fodder. Proudly say that you are on a break and home with kids, and throw in some humor. I used the line, “Usually I’m home with preschoolers, so it’s nice to be in the world of grownups today,” probably more times than was warranted, but 1) it was a good ice breaker, and 2) it was true. It was fun and stress-free to put on lawyer clothes, have an adult lunch, and talk about something besides nap schedules.
Refresh your résumé.
This seems obvious, but it’s the first step in brushing off the dust, and remembering that you once did work that didn’t involve diapers. I paid for a résumé consultation and was advised to remove the kid-related volunteer work listed in my “Volunteer” section (PTA and preschool board positions, listed alongside pro bono legal work). The consultant said it was not germane to my ability to practice law. I agree, but I reasoned that any firm who didn’t value work/life balance was probably a firm I didn’t want to work for, anyway. I left it in. For me, that was the right decision, but go with what feels right to you.
Embrace the dreaded resume gap.
Don’t look at it as a gap in your career — think of it as a break which allowed you to become the person you are now. I was sworn in as a lawyer a few days before my 25th birthday. I’m in a much different demographic these days, and I’ve had loads of life experience since then. It makes me a better lawyer now.
Talk about work stuff.
If, like me, you hate to use “network” as a verb, don’t call it that. Just talk. Talk with other parents about what you “used” to do before kids. Don’t think of it as making potential contacts for future employment (although of course you could); look at it as building your support system as you tackle this endeavor. When my daughter was in preschool, I discovered that several other moms were thinking of going back to work, too. We regularly talked about the issues and challenges we were all facing, and they were a source of support for me.
Do a gut check.
Don’t assume that you have to go back to what you did before. Figure out what you liked about your previous work and what you didn’t. Take the elements that you loved and figure out how to fashion them into something that works for you now. Don’t close yourself off to other careers. Hear as many stories as you can about returning to the work force in a new career. I’ve loved watching my friends return to work, finding different careers and doing what they love as small business owners, writers, educators, and everything in between. They inspire me and remind me that I will get there, too.
Do something that is the opposite of lawyering, and that doesn’t come naturally to you.
I didn’t do this intentionally, but it’s the best thing I’ve done: I got talked into being PTA co-president at my kids’ elementary school. I joked a few times at board meetings about wishing I had a gavel, but it was true. I feel more comfortable in a courtroom than leading a meeting of fellow parents. Being in an organization like a PTA requires collaboration; there is very little about being a lawyer that is collaborative. Doing PTA activities forced me to stretch my skills in a direction that didn’t come naturally to me. In my PTA role, I’ve been lucky to work with lots of collaborative, energetic non-lawyers, and I’ve learned a lot from them.
The most important thing is to recognize that returning to work is not really an event, but a process. There will be turns and detours along the way. But knowledge will come from the journey, and ultimately you will be a better lawyer than you were before.