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When the Stay-Home Parent Wants to Go Back to Work

Vivia Chen

September 29, 2010

Today's guest blogger, Linda Marks, a director at UC Hastings Law School's Opting Back In program, answers this question from a reader:

 Dear Careerist:

 How do lawyers with a few years of legal experience reenter the job market after taking time off to raise their families?

 After over a decade's leave, several geographical moves (and several bar exams as well), and a stint of work in the legal department of a large national health insurance company, I am once again attempting to reenter the job market. I have been looking at an array of Internet postings: government, private law firms, public interest, and nonprofits, and so far have had very few responses. I suspect that my long leave may be what screens me out.



Dear MJ:

You are not alone in wanting to on-ramp after taking a career break--and your experience of getting few responses is not surprising.

The most important advice we can give you is to network, network, network. When an attorney with a resume gap applies for a job, it’s hard to get past the screeners. That’s why networking is crucial.

How good is your network now?  Are you in touch with people you’ve worked with in the past, those with whom you attended law school?  Are you on LinkedIn? Don’t overlook the parents and neighbors you’ve met while you’ve been raising your family.

Go through your list and select the five people you feel most comfortable talking to. Figure out what you’d like from them. (Start with friends or family; it will be a lot easier.) Then, ask if they’d meet with you. Tell them: “I’ve decided to reenter the workforce, and I’m exploring estate planning. Would you be willing to meet with me for 15 minutes about how you got into the field?” Reassure them that you’re not asking them for a job, just information.

It’s hard to on-ramp on your own, so you might want to look into programs for people who want to rejoin the job market. Our Hastings Opting Back In program is a national telephone coaching group for attorneys who have left law for a year or more and want to return to practice. You can also check out the reentry workshops offered by Pace University Law School, the attorney reentry program of American University, Washington School of Law, and the iRelaunch programs offered by the authors of Back on the Career Track. 

We’ve had women in our program who were out of work for up to 20 years find employment by networking. One is now the manager of legal affairs for a California company, who joined the group in late January 2009. Here's what she says:

Mid-summer, I was landing bona fide interviews and had a lot of people looking out for me, or introducing me to more people. . . . I secured (my current job) by networking. . . I had some nice exchanges with the president of the company and connected with him through LinkedIn in 2009. Because of tenacity and sheer desperation at the beginning of 2010, I just gave key people in my "LinkedIn" network a heads-up that I was still on the market. Oh boy, did I love to hear someone say, "I'm glad to hear you are still searching. . . . Let's talk."

Her point: "No one knows how you are doing unless you tell them."

Many people are afraid of networking because they think of it as begging or acting like a used car salesman. But if you do it right, it’s more about listening than talking--and more about giving than taking. Remember to build rapport with each person you meet and keep good records of your contacts. And send thank-you notes.

Yes, reentering the workforce is anything but fast and easy. But being super-determined and focused will go a long way.

Linda Marks can be reached at marksl@uchastings.edu.

Related post: "You've Failed the Bar, and You Want a Job?"

 Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

Photo: Courtesy of AMC.


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Also no recognition that legal market punishes even lawyers who may not have taken time off (albeit working part-time or otherwise balancing family and career by not gunning for partner or gc position) for not being 10 or less years out of law school.

"We’ve had women in our program who were out of work for up to 20 years find employment by networking."

Notice, nothing in the article about a guy getting to take a two-decade break to pursue work-life balance.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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