For many of us legal professionals, the time and work involved in studying to begin a career in the legal profession may have seemed overwhelming and demanding at the time. Yet consider what’s required if you decide to reenter the legal field after an extended absence. That’s a challenge many are facing as they decide to resume the practice of law.

Legal professionals and time away from law

I’ve known peers who had held legal jobs but left for any number of reasons — dissatisfaction with the work, extended health or family care responsibilities; and others who had pursued a different career direction when they found it difficult to secure work in the legal profession upon graduation from law school.

Regardless of the reason for an extended gap in your legal work history, there are a number of steps that can help you get your legal career back on track.

Six tips for re-entering the legal job market

  1. Research what has changed in the legal profession. Study current legal trends to learn what may be different now than when you last worked in the field of law. For example, we're seeing heightened demand for specialized expertise in the legal workforce, particularly in litigation, commercial law and healthcare. Or if you’re a paralegal or legal support professional who’s not been doing legal work for a few years, you’ll quickly discover that many new law office technologies have been added to help streamline daily responsibilities and improve efficiencies.

  2. Identify the career option you desire and update your skills. Depending on your research and analysis of the current legal hiring market, you may or may not pursue a position similar to what you held in the past. Explore all opportunities available that may match with your interests and experience, including alternative legal positions. Whatever career direction you decide, refresh your skills to match current legal job requirements for the position you desire. Take relevant continuing legal education (CLE) classes online or through your local bar or paralegal association chapter. Update your technology skills, if necessary, with training on new legal software programs. Gain additional insights by reading legal publications or attending conferences or legal events in your area on topics applicable to the specialty you’re pursuing.

  3. Renew and/or expand professional legal networks. Considering the intense competition for legal positions today, connecting with new and past legal mentors and colleagues should be a major component of your reentry strategy. Formulate a brief elevator pitch regarding your capabilities, experience and the legal position you’re seeking — and then participate in relevant industry association meetings and events to meet new contacts and reconnect with other legal acquaintances. Perhaps volunteer to serve on a committee or two at your local bar or legal support staff association. Call and email past contacts to advise that you’re planning to re-enter the legal profession; and use online legal network resources to expand your connections to additional legal professionals.

  4. Use a legal staffing agency as a resource. Consider using a legal staffing group to gain access to legal positions on a temporary, project or full-time basis. Not only are such agencies a valuable resource for job opportunities not otherwise posted -- their recruiters can provide helpful direction on positions that match your experience, skills and interests.

  5. Take advantage of formal programs for re-entering the legal profession. If you have the luxury of time and money to participate in a formal program, there are several resources available, such as American University’s Washington College of Law’s “Online Lawyer Reentry Program” and Pace Law’s “New Directions for Attorneys.” Research other programs that may be offered in your area for re-entering the legal field.

  6. Be prepared to respond to gaps in your legal work history. Update your legal resume and be prepared to respond during job interviews if you’re asked about the gaps in your work history. Practice answering the question by emphasizing your strengths and capabilities while minimizing your time outside of the legal profession.