Cardiff solicitor Hannah Williams reflects on the benefits of a career break
Returning after a break is always daunting. In my case, returning to law after a pandemic, having a baby, and, not to mention having an entirely different career in the meantime, was no different.
I qualified as a solicitor as the credit crunch hit in the late 2000s and many firms implemented recruitment freezes. Having been verbally offered a corporate role at a top ten UK law firm prior to a recruitment freeze, I was quickly offered a sideways move to litigation within the same firm, which did suit much of my training experience. Of course, as a young solicitor, I was on cloud nine to receive a role at such a prestigious firm and looked past my initial specialism preferences and set about trying to be the best commercial litigator that I could be.
Quickly, though, I knew this was not where my passion lay in the law. Contentious matters were not where I feel most comfortable, personally. Alongside this, having a love of theatre including training from the current chief examiner at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Linda Macrow, who offered me my first part time job at her theatre school at the age of 16, I had other interests which had been continuing as hobbies throughout university and training.
After a year post qualification, I felt that I had to make a decision, which in my case was to leave law altogether and set up my own arts business. Within a couple of years, I had won and been nominated for awards for my new business; securing funding from Communities First, private nurseries, NHS and Flying Start, was working in TV and film, supervising numerous staff and volunteers as well as running theatre school activities for 100-200 children and young people each week.
All was well. Then not only did I start a family but Covid hit. The arts has been disproportionately impacted by Covid restrictions and, being the partner of a key worker, the childcare pressures, as for many parents, became the pressing issue. Like many individuals across all sectors learning to deal with a global pandemic, it was time for a complete re-evaluation of what I should do in a changing market.
I returned to law in 2021, with some trepidation as to how I would be welcomed back. Many legal recruiters, understandably, viewed that I was starting from the bottom again. The overall impression was that my career break was primarily a negative. Quickly I felt I proved this was not the case and was pleased to see that my other experience was recognised and valued. Following a few offers, I moved firms, starting as the head of the private client team at an outfit in Cardiff in January 2022, bringing not only the legal knowledge which is expected from any solicitor but demonstration of being a successful business owner with recruitment, management and supervision experience, social media skills and a broad network, all of which not only are useful for building and developing a department within a law firm but, I believe, true representation of what is now becoming a universal truth at law firms; that lawyers are more than just lawyers.
Clients look not just for legal advice but practical advice, from lawyers that understand their circumstances whether professional or personal. Having taught young people and adults in the arts and community sector, I feel it is true that when you bring any person’s skills to the forefront and recognise their differences, whether that be ethnicity, educational or financial background, faith, neurodivergence or even their hobbies, you get the best of them, which is an asset to any employer.
My tips for anyone questioning their career choices, a break or a move:
1. Consider a different specialism
You may be reconsidering your current role, or whether to return to it following parental leave, but leaving your career may be far too extreme for you. Staying within your industry, or firm, but seeking to retrain or take on a different caseload may be the change you need.
2. Don’t be scared of ‘time out’ but know that you will need to invest in yourself to get back up to speed
The enforced ‘stay at home’ time brought about by the pandemic gave me the opportunity to work hard at retraining myself. I had excellent training in my field in my early career but was aware of the length of my break. I scoured LinkedIn for free webinars to attend, followed trainers in the field, subscribed to relevant publication newsletters and purchased up to date books and materials. These materials even included a copy of recent exam revision notes for sale on eBay, so that I was confident that I was up to date before I went to interviews, let alone back in an office.
3. Recognise the added value you bring and champion yourself
Only you can know what transferable skills you bring to any role. If you feel that you are different for any reason, consider how that difference can benefit an employer and let them know. You may be the only person in your firm who is able to offer your viewpoint or experience.
Hannah Williams is head of private client at M&M Solicitors in Cardiff and co-founder of networking group Spotlight Cardiff
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