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Allen & Overy launches "Return to Law" programme in the UK

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Wim Dejonghe

Senior Partner


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01 May 2015

Allen & Overy announces today the launch of a new pilot ‘returnship’ programme to help encourage and empower experienced lawyers on an extended career break to return to professional roles in the legal profession.

The six month programme will be available to lawyers in the Allen & Overy Alumni network and will specifically target women as part of the firm’s 20:20 initiative to increase the proportion of women partners in the firm to at least 20 per cent by 2020. The programme will be available from early 2016.

“We know through the work we’ve been doing to support our 20:20 commitment that a significant factor contributing to the lack of women in senior roles is the difficulty they perceive in reintegrating into the workplace following an extended career break,” said Wim Dejonghe, managing partner at Allen & Overy.  

In an effort to understand further the challenges around returning to work, Allen & Overy partnered with She's Back, a start-up organisation looking to help experienced women return to work, and the University of Edinburgh Business School, on a research project*. The research found that the main challenges for women reintegrating into the workplace is a lack of confidence, a feeling that their skills and legal knowledge are not up to date, or because they need more flexibility in their working arrangements than is currently on offer.   

“Encouragingly, the research suggests that a high proportion of women lawyers would choose to return if the right support was there – many of them with as much as 20 years’ earning potential ahead of them,” adds Dejonghe.   

As part of the ‘Return to Work’ programme, participants will undertake intensive technical training through Allen & Overy’s practice group universities and on-the-job development. They will also develop their core skills, focusing on personal brand, impact and resilience. Participants will work within practice groups and have access to a mentor.   

At the end of the programme, it is expected that participants will be in a position to return to professional careers as lawyers and will be offered a position at Peerpoint, the firm’s contract lawyer business, or in exceptional circumstances, with Allen & Overy.  

“If there’s one thing we’re learning about the support women need to fulfil their professional ambitions while balancing commitments outside of work, it’s that there’s no silver bullet. To succeed here as a firm, we need to come up with new initiatives like this so that we can continue to broaden our understanding to find different approaches that address the varying needs of women wanting to continue their professional careers in law,” he says. 

For further information, please contact Louise Crumpton, on +44 (0)20 3088 3141.

*The research took place between January and April 2015 and involved 1,100 professional women overall and 148 women lawyers. 100 women also participated in face to face workshops. 

Story updated on 13 November