Law firms launch sparky new returnship programme with the Reignite Academy

We are thrilled to launch this exciting and much-needed returnship programme for lawyers who have had a career break. Created in partnership with six founding law firms the programme offers a 6 month contract with support and training throughout. Juliet Turnbull 2to3days Founder & CEO caught up with Lisa Unwin, one of the founders of the Reignite Academy, to find out more.

What roles do the 3 founders play in the programme?

Melinda Wallman is a former corporate lawyer and one of the leading legal search consultants in the London market, she’s known for placing senior women and has a tremendous network.  She also runs the XX Advantage is a specialist diversity consultancy for the legal sector, and is passionate about helping women advance their careers. She’s chief salesperson.

I founded She’s Back three years ago, to help shine a light on the untapped potential in women who’ve taken a career break.  I’m a former management consultant and director of brand and communication at Deloitte, so my role is project management, comms, branding - making sure it happens. I’ll also be looking after some of the training.

Stephanie Dillon is the founder or Inclusivity Partners and provides clients with high quality, flexible returner programmes.  She is a former Director with multinational recruitment firms and is expert in recruiting for potential, seeing beyond a gap in someone’s CV.  She will handle the recruitment side of things

Why in particular did you select these six law firms - CMS, Orrick, Reed Smith, Macfarlanes, Sidley & White & Case?

They selected us. We spoke to around 20 different firms. All could see the value.  These 6 had practice leaders who really wanted to tackle what seems to be an intractable problem, were committed to making an impact and prepared to try something different.

How many returnship positions are available with each firm?

There is no cap.  This is a pilot so we’re not looking for huge numbers at this point.  It depends in part on how many great candidates we find.

What level of seniority do the returners need to have reached prior to taking a career break to be eligible to apply?

They have to be qualified with city or US firms but we haven’t specified that they have to have reached a certain level.  Our expectation, though, is that most will have reached senior associate level, simply because that’s the level at which most women leave.

Where in the UK will the work take place?

Our programme is focused purely on London.  However, I am aware of a different programme coming out later in the year which focuses on the regions (specifically Leeds and Manchester).

How will the cohort keep in contact with one another if they are all working in separate companies?

The cohort will undergo the initial training and induction together.  We will also use the same coach or coaches to provide support during the 6 month period of work.  At least one session a month will be held with the cohort together, possibly more if it makes sense.

If job offers are made post-returnship will flexible working be an option? And if so what sort of flexible arrangements have been discussed with your clients

It will depend on the role, the firm and the person involved.  Generally, yes, there is an expectation that for many of the roles on offer there will be the opportunity for a degree of flexible working.

What’s the vision for the Reignite Academy?

Ultimately, we would love the Academy to be a routine way for professionals who have stepped away from their careers to find a way back.  That would include the relevant training, coaching, work experience and, of course, jobs. At the moment we have 6 founder members and they are all law firms. Many lawyers work outside the profession, in-house and in other organisations.  There is no reason our members will, in the future, exclude these other avenues for candidates to find work.

Do the founders plan on rolling out the academy to other sectors?

Let’s get this one right first.  Seriously, there is no reason that the same sort of approach couldn’t apply to other sectors with similar characteristics.  By that I mean sectors where there are large numbers of women (people) who have undertaken a degree of professional education, including achieving postgraduate qualifications who tend to leave those professions at mid-career levels and later wish to return.