Supporting talented women to reignite their legal careers

Hogan Lovells works in partnership with The Reignite Academy which offers a returnship programme for lawyers who have had a career break.

Nine firms have joined the Reignite Academy, providing more opportunities for lawyers who have taken a break from city careers to return to private practice.  The nine firms now joining the programme are Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Mayer Brown, PwC, Shearman & Sterling, Simmons & Simmons, Slaughter and May, Travers Smith and Guildford-based Stevens & Bolton.

Susan Bright, Hogan Lovells Regional Managing Partner for the UK and Africa, summed up the motivation behind her firm’s commitment to the programme:

"Hogan Lovells is delighted to partner with Reignite Academy to help talented lawyers back into the workplace after a career break.  We are committed to creating a workplace that attracts, retains and promotes people from different backgrounds, with different perspectives and life experiences.  We know that this diversity makes us a better business -- a business that is better able to serve our clients.  Working with Reignite Academy underlines our commitment to support women and men returning from periods of leave to bring their experience and skills back into the workplace." 

Launched in September last year, the Academy provides successful candidates with a six-month paid period of work experience and training with a view to 'reigniting' their careers. The initial programme received applications from 70 lawyers: 10 joined the pilot programme in January 2019 and were placed within member firms.

“We know that for women, in particular, careers often don’t follow a linear path. We can all think of really talented associates who left and who we’d love to have back. This is a really exciting way for us to reach those people and offer them a route back to practice and hopefully back onto the partner track” explained Mahrie Webb of Simmons & Simmons.

Those returning - in the initial cohort they were all women, though the programme is open to both men and women - ranged in experience from one year PQE to over twenty.  Their backgrounds included corporate, banking and finance, regulatory, tax, commercial, employment, litigation and real estate.  The founders were so impressed with the quality of people coming through that they decided to formalise the business and began talking to more firms about future membership. 

“We shouldn’t have been surprised” explains Lisa Unwin, co-founder and CEO of Reignite.  “These people had chosen to become lawyers; they loved working in the law; they left for various reasons, often to do with the demands of juggling career and family.  As lives move on and they look to the future, many are eager to return to a challenging, fulfilling career.”

Each firm sees this as an important part of their future talent strategy and an opportunity to use a new avenue to find experienced, talented lawyers.   

Kathleen Russ, Senior Partner Elect at Travers Smith explains:  "For me this is a no brainer. The best firms will be those which attract and retain the most talented people. There are talented people from all walks of life and from different age groups.  A talented lawyer does not lose their talent or the potential to be a great partner merely because they chose to take a career break for a period of time.  Embracing those talented "returners" into the work place can only be for the benefit of Travers Smith.  Our firm is delighted to be involved with this project."

Herbert Smith Freehills Regional Managing Partner UK, US & EMEA, Ian Cox, said: "We are committed to gender diversity and the attraction, promotion and retention of women across all levels of the firm, and we are delighted that, through our work with The Reignite Academy, we will continue to ensure that we attract a diverse pool of candidates."

The Academy will be open to anyone who trained with a city firm who has had a total career break but unlike many similar programmes offered by the banks and large accountancy firms, the doors will also be open to people who have not had complete breaks but who left their city careers to take a different path for a while.

Ed Stacey, Partner and Head of Legal Services at PwC, said:

“We are hugely excited to play a role in supporting many talented and committed lawyers overcome barriers so they can return to the profession they love. The initiative complements our focus on diversity and our ongoing drive to support flexibility within the legal profession and across PwC.”

Richard King, Managing Partner at Stevens & Bolton, the first firm outside the City to join the programme, commented: “We pride ourselves on attracting and nurturing first-class talent in order to deliver first-class work for our clients. As a firm located outside the capital, we are a hub for talented City lawyers who value the City-calibre work we can offer, just without the London postcode.”

For further information for either candidates or employers, please contact [email protected] 

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