Partner track opportunity for career-break women

Six City firms unite in project to get career-break women back on partner track

Macfarlanes and White & Case are among six firms signing up to the Reignite Academy, which will take talented women who have taken a career break and put them back on the path to partnership.

By Richard Simmons for the Lawyer, 3 September 2018 

Six City firms are to collaborate in an initiative to reintroduce ambitious women to the workplace after time out, with the goal of putting them back on partnership track.

CMS, Macfarlanes, Orrick, Reed Smith, Sidley Austin and White & Case have all signed up to the Reignite Academy, and will welcome former City lawyers who have been out of the workplace on six-month paid internships with a view to giving them full-time employment at the end. The programme will also be open to people who have not had complete career breaks but who left their City careers to take a different path.

The Academy itself was founded by Lisa Unwin, Melinda Wallman and Stephanie Dillon. All three have backgrounds in the field: Unwin founded She’s Back, which supports women who want to return to work, Dillon runs Inclusivity, which helps employers deliver returner and recruitment programmes and Wallman set up diversity consulting business XX Advantage.

“The genesis of the idea came from Melinda and I talking about about the sheer number of women leaving the law at senior associate level,” Unwin told The Lawyer. “We shared great sense of frustration and passionately wanting to do something about that,”

“Lots of firms are trying to stem the tide of attrition; however, our focus is on the women who have left and want to return. We know how hard it is to come back via the traditional recruitment process: if you look like you have a gap on your CV you are all too often ignored. We wanted to do something that opened the doors for the many women who want to re-enter the profession.”

All of the six participating firms have identified practice areas where they have a need for talent which also have a practice group leader who is receptive and engaged with the idea. They will be matched with candidates who have gone through the Academy’s face-to face screening and workshop.

During the internship the candidates will work in their chosen firm, simultaneously going through a training, onboarding and induction process, including support to regain practising certificates if necessary. They will also receive one-to-one coaching from specialist coaches provided by the Reignite Academy.

Unusually, at the end of the internship period the Academy is not aiming to give returning lawyers part-time employment or access to an ‘alternative’ career path within a law firm. Instead, the internship will be used to get them up to speed, with the idea that the lawyer will then slot back into the traditional law firm hierarchy, with the option of partnership still on the cards.

“Setting up these programmes is quite costly and time-consuming and we felt working with one firm alone would probably not be feasible,” Unwin told The Lawyer. “With half a dozen on board we are able to share the cost and gather more momentum,”

“One thing we thought might be a barrier is that firms are competing for talent, but very early on in our discussions we discovered there is a shared sense this is a problem that needs to be addressed and that firms were willing to put competitiveness to one side.”

Reed Smith EMEA managing partner Tamara Box said: “Each year, too many talented lawyers are lost from the profession.  It is our hope that through the Reignite Academy we can help provide meaningful paid work experience, training and a confidence boost to those wishing to return.” 

Orrick partner Nell Scott added: “The rate at which talented women drop out of law is one of the biggest challenges we face as a profession.  We know from women’s feedback that the difficulty of balancing work and family life is one of the biggest reasons. The Reignite Academy is taking a practical and incredibly thoughtful approach to address this problem directly – by giving women the full support they need to return to work successfully and giving law firms a path to recruit from and integrate this incredible senior talent pool.”

The application process launches in September, with successful candidates set to start work at one of the six firms in January 2019.

Monday Sep 3, 2018