Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

How to Get Back to Work After YEARS of Downtime

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“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

With so many laid-off lawyers and jobless JDs flooding the legal market, there would seem to be little room for an attorney who’s been out of the workforce for years. Lawyers who set aside their careers–whether to raise a family or for other reasons–and are now looking to reestablish themselves face a very tight job market, a pool of much younger talent and, if they haven’t kept on top of developments in their field, a steep re-learning curve. The prospect can be daunting.

Yet, as is clear from a story in this Sunday’s Washington Post, opportunities do exist. (hat tip: ABA Journal) The Post piece, despite its television for women flavor (“The Return: A stay-at-home mom attempts to go back to work after nearly two decades. Can she revive her career?”), offers some real hope to onetime lawyers looking to return to practice. [Spoiler alert: our heroine, Amy Beckett, does eventually land a job.]

Among the takeaways from Beckett’s story that might help in your own search:

Don’t be afraid to volunteer or take on contract work while you look for something more permanent. Unpaid or part-time work can help you build a network and maybe even do something worthwhile. (“For years, I had resisted signing up and volunteering somewhere because lack of salary means lack of prestige,” Beckett said. “In this case, I feel it’s an investment, and it’s a project that I identify with. I love to pull weeds and be in the dirt and be in gardens. This may point me in a good direction.”) Beckett eventually obtained an interview at the employment law firm where she was offered a job because of contract work she’d done for one of the firm’s tenants.

Expect to have bad days. Notwithstanding self-boosting daily affirmations (“I keep thinking, ‘I’m an appealing person, I’m smart, I’m good to talk to, I would be good at this!’”), you’re going to get rejected, feel discouraged and lose confidence (“I’ve failed at everything I tried. I failed at my first job here. I got fired and was told I was incompetent. I’m hanging onto the shreds of my professional identity with this contract work, which is unsatisfying.”). The key is not to let it overwhelm you: “Tarbox [Beckett’s husband] had seen Beckett low before. ’Fortunately, she was dogged enough that she would pick herself off, dust herself off and try again,’ he said.”

In the end, Beckett’s air of confidence and self-assurance apparently “made a strong impression” on the hiring partners at Passman & Kaplan, as did her intelligent questions during the interview, and she was offered a position. As Suzanne Bianchi, a UCLA sociology professor, told the Post, “You’ve got to convince somebody to take a chance on you, and you have to have the self-confidence that you can do that.”

–Posted by Vera Djordjevich, Vault’s Law Blog

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One Response

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  1. Getting back to work after not working for a while is hard, but you can step back into it. Doing research is a great way to get back into things.

    Careers today

    September 20, 2010 at 1:03 pm


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