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Getting back into legal work after a long career break? – a Q&A with Louis Sebastian, Legal Service Manager at North West Leicestershire District Council

by Sara Robinson | 7 January 2020

We recently spoke to one of our legal candidates about her experience getting back into work after a period off. This can often be a challenging and stressful time for candidates, many of whom may be looking for a role that can work around their home life.

In this follow up blog Senior Consultant Sara Robinson spoke to Louis Sebastian, Legal Services Manager at North West Leicestershire District Council, to get his thoughts on how we can support more legal candidates back into work, and what benefits he thinks some time off from work can have.

What do you think some reservations hiring managers may have when looking at taking on someone who has had a long career break?

I imagine the biggest reservation candidates have will be around their knowledge being up-to-date and what the training implications are because of this. They may also have reservations around their soft skills – things like time management. Taking a career break can impact your confidence, so candidates need to be given the assurance that they still have what it takes to be successful.

Candidates coming back into work after a long break will also be facing a big shift in their routine, so some may also worry about how they are going to cope with getting back into the routine of work, something that can be challenging for the best of us.

Do you think it’s particularly difficult to get back into work after a career break in sectors like legal?

The legal sector moves very quickly. Not just with regards to changes in law and its underlying processes but also in the regulatory environment. It takes time and dedication to stay on top of everything which can be very difficult for practicing legal professionals, never mind those that have had a period of time off work.

What sort of things do you think candidates can do to re-fresh their CV/experience to make it easier to get back into work?

There are a lot of training courses out there that retuning candidates can take advantage of. For example, we have the LLG courses that would be relevant to people looking to get back in to local government legal work. These are important to build up knowledge and show hiring managers that you are committed to getting back into work. Just having some evidence on your CV that you have made some efforts to re-fresh your experience can go a long way to calming any reservations a hiring manager may have.

Many places can see a career break as a negative thing, what do you think some of the benefits of having one can be?

A lot of people have a long career break for family reasons and there are various skills that candidates can pick up as a result. I know first-hand that it can give you a real appreciation for time management. Candidates can also build up skills in co-ordinating and managing people that are transferrable as well. I often see the lines blurring between the skills I pick up in work and the ones I have picked up at home. When looking at CVs of candidates I am receptive to examples from outside of a work environment to demonstrate the attributes I am looking for. Candidates just need to ensure they detail whatever skills they have learnt on their CV as there are always ways to show career breaks in a positive light.

What do you think organisations can do to try and support/encourage people to come back into work?

Keeping on an open mind when you are going out to recruit and considering applications from all candidates is a good start. Hiring managers also need to ensure their adverts are accessible and do not put some people off. I have seen some firms state specifically that they are open to applications from people that have had a career break on the advert which I think is a great step forward. I imagine that a lot of people count themselves out of a lot of roles as soon as they read an advert, so it is important to make the role look attainable to as many candidates as possible.

When employers know that someone is leaving for a maternity or career break they could add them into an alumni association or a group that enables them to keep in touch with the business and, in this sector, law. This is something that we had at my old firm and whilst it is more of a social thing, it is a way for people to keep in touch. It could be expanded to include details of training course, which would be helpful to someone who is looking to re-fresh their skills.  

Do you have any other advice for candidates that may have had a career break but are getting back into the legal sector?

Locum roles are great as they allow candidates to gain hands on experience without the employer having to commit to a permanent contract in the first instance. Recruiters can play a vital role here, especially in helping legal candidates gain the experience needed to get back into work. Recruiters work with hiring managers daily and will be able to look for suitable vacancies and support candidates in finding a role. Locum roles often come up with very little notice, so being in touch with a recruiter can be helpful in learning about new opportunities first. Starting off on a locum contract can help and this is also where recruiters can be a real asset. They can work with candidates to build up experience through locum contracts and then use this to help them gain permanent employment, if that is what the candidate is looking for.

There are lots of vacancies in the legal sector, particularly in local government and hiring managers are struggling to find suitable candidates. Doing more to support candidates that are looking to get back into work could help. If hiring managers were more open, they could widen their talent pool and fill more posts whilst assisting legal candidates back into work.

Can we help you?

If you are currently off work and looking to secure a new opportunity or are thinking about taking a career break and would like some advice, get in touch. A member of our legal recruitment team would be more than happy to help.

Alternatively, you can check out our latest legal jobs here