AG won the 'Managing Diverse Talent' award at the annual UK Diversity Legal Awards 2017 and gained recognition for its innovative Returner Programme.

Now in it's third year, the programme continues to help individuals (often women) who have taken a career break return to the profession. Two of the Returner Programme alumni talk about their experiences.

By Jo Dishington

Thirteen years away from City private practice is a long time by any reckoning. Much has moved on in that time - law and process, technological innovations, working models. All new and exciting to contemplate, but if you have been out of it, also daunting. No matter that you have multi-tasked without cease, created and run new ventures, liaised with an impressive range of individuals, worked an average day as long and challenging as ever you did - your confidence levels have plummeted and as you find yourself stepping one Monday morning into the atrium of a London law office, imposter syndrome rears its ugly head and you wonder why you’re there. Why are you there? Well, in my case, intellectual curiosity and finally a time to dedicate myself to developing my own professional goals.

AG's returnship programme aims to give an opportunity to people like me to rediscover the legal working place and to assess whether it really is something they want to pursue. For me, it delivered. It opened my eyes both to new ways of working and to new roles: for example, the Risk and Compliance function has developed immeasurably in complexity, scope and interest since I last worked as a lawyer. The programme included a day at a major financial institution; again, in-house roles were something I had never previously contemplated, but would certainly do so now. Sessions on the current legal market highlighted the market's increasing flexibility and the latest thinking on recruitment, with an expert CV review. Participants included a wide range of AG personnel, all unfailingly positive and ready to impart experience and knowledge. Particularly compelling was the advice to identify those who can potentially help and make coffee diary appointments with them (my caffeine input will definitely be up).

Of course you will need to put in the requisite work to bring your technical skills up to scratch (more so in some areas than others and dependent on how long you have been out), but your core analytical and drafting skills are indisputably still there. Those other skills you have developed in the interim are relevant and transferable. My fellow returnees and I had different work backgrounds and objectives, but by the final Friday we all felt clearer and more focused on our goals and more confident in approaching them. I don't fool myself that it will be easy to persuade an employer to hire me but I will try; the presentation of new possibilities has stimulated me to rework my CV to stress my competencies, to network more effectively and to portray a more positive professional persona. The support structure created during the programme will continue to be there for feedback, inspiration and consolation.

My recommendation? If you have ever wondered "Could I go back?" do think about applying for the programme. As a two-week initiative, it can’t answer all your questions but it may finally clarify a decision to return or not - a good end in itself. This is a brave new world, where we will all be working longer and where a diverse workforce with a broad skill-set and life experience will be valuable: be bold and take the first step in going out into it.

By Joanna Stewart

For the past 2 weeks, AG has been running a "Return to Law" programme. The aim is to take women and men who have had time out from their careers and bring them back into the workplace.

There were four of us on the course; three based in London and one in Manchester. Two of us want to go back to full time working, one is looking at different options and I am hoping to work as a contractor through AG Integrate. For all of us, however, the programme has been incredibly useful.

I wasn't sure what to expect. For me, the idea was to brush up my legal skills after 8 years out of private practice and meet some of the people I might be working with and for as a contractor. I imagined it would be rather like my vacation placement at A&O, many moons ago, when, having given me all the colouring the property department had at the time, I ended up reading copies of Legal Week. However that was not to be the case.

The past two weeks have been spent in a haze of learning new information, meeting some truly inspirational people and reconnecting with my legal brain. It's all been fascinating, but on a personal note the realisation that nothing much has changed in the law of property (although kudos to me for choosing an area based on a law made in 1925) has removed much of the mystique of returning. In addition, when asked to write advice notes to the client, having the confidence of being more experienced (I was going to write 'older' and decided against it) meant that I was much happier than I remember ever being in the past to write unequivocal advice. Having done my research and satisfied myself that there was nothing else to look at, I wrote with confidence. That was a change.

There were two days, out of the ten, when we had a full day of talks. The first was on risk and compliance. When I left the law, there was one AML/conflicts partner who seemed to have the job because they were the only ones absent when a volunteer was required. Now, there is an entire department, staffed by some immensely talented people who are incredibly enthusiastic and positive about their work. We also had a day at a financial services client learning about life in-house, gaining a unique insight on different parts of the business. It has proven to be a fascinating 2 weeks, and a fabulous springboard for a new career.