Women in Law: Returning to work following maternity leave

As you near the end of maternity leave returning to work can feel like an extremely daunting task. Many women start to question how they can successfully combine their role as a lawyer with that of a parent. Once managed as separate entities, home and work life can become blurred.

Whether your career aspirations change or remain the same, you need to figure out how to manage your career effectively in your own way. Here are seven factors to consider that will smooth your return:

Your joint careers

Talk with your partner about your joint career direction and family aspirations.

How are you going to support each other’s careers? Who will be the primary care giver or will you jointly take on this role? Is it realistic to think both parents can work 24/7?

In order to remain successful at work and home you’ll need to work as a team and share the responsibilities and pressures of juggling careers and family life.

Your medium to long-term career path

When immersed in baby care it can be hard to think beyond the next couple of years but I’d encourage you to do so. Rather than make an outright decision between work and family keep your career options as open as is practical.

Some women may not want to accelerate through promotion stages as quickly as before. Others feel that if they are leaving their child, work needs to count and making partner or getting promoted becomes their motivation for being back.

Don’t be afraid to ask for different working patterns

Don’t make assumptions about what is doable or permissible on your return.

If you know that the only way you will consider returning to work is if you have some flexibility don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Firms increasingly recognise that to retain their “parental” talent they must find different ways of working that enable parents to manage home and working lives.  Be pragmatic about what you ask for. Even working from home occasionally or leaving at a specific time can provide flexibility needed to make your return sustainable.

Re-engage with career conversations at work

Whether this conversation takes place in the lead up to your return or after you are back don’t shy away from conversations about your career development. Maternity leave does not diminish your right to talk about the future.

Lead and be in control of this conversation. Your return may be relatively short-term if you are planning to have more kids. You may also encounter the “invisible bump” syndrome where others expect you to go off again.

It’s imperative you fully engage in the here and now and demonstrate you are interested in work and fully contributing. Don’t act in a way that gives the impression you’re already in the departure lounge!

Emma Spitz
Emma Spitz

Quality of work

Many women I coach say the work they do must be meaningful and add value to justify sacrificing time with their family. It may feel like work isn’t as challenging as it could be. This could be because you avoid asking for bigger cases given how time consuming they can be – or others make assumptions about your appetite for them.  Discuss this with your supervising partners to ensure you have good quality work to get stuck into without being overwhelmed.

Ensure the deals or matters you work on provide the necessary exposure to advance your career.

Networking

Networks open career options. Identify priority contacts leading up to and in the first few months of your return. Are they sufficiently strong to pick up where you left off or is some bridge building needed? You may need to build new networks, find a sponsor or mentor to help you consider and act on career options.

Support system

Even the most successful returners I’ve worked with found being away temporarily dents their self-esteem. I’ll cover how to rebuild confidence in my next article but for now think about building an effective support system. You need your family behind you, childcare that allows you to work as you need to and key supporters and career advocates at work.

Emma Spitz is a career coach at the Executive Coaching Consultancy. She has over twelve years experience advising City law firms and coaching female lawyers on their career development.

My career story: “I was pregnant at the same time I went up for partnership”