A break from grafting: are early sabbaticals a bad idea for junior lawyers?

Image credit: Instagram (@rosieawilliams)

Rosie Williams was officially ‘pied’ two weeks ago after new Love Island contestant Sam chose ‘unlucky in love’ Samira to couple up with. With Love Island back on our screens for summer, it’s been hard to escape – even the legal press have been covering it…

Since her exit, Love Island fans (and eavesdroppers) have been wondering if Rosie will return to the legal profession, or instead take advantage of the lucrative Instagram deals she will no doubt be offered.

Rosie only qualified as a solicitor three months before entering the most talked-about reality show of recent times. TV villain Piers Morgan was the first to criticise Rosie for leaving her law career to “look stupid on TV”. Although his remarks were unduly harsh, it does put the spotlight on whether having a career break so early on is a wise decision for junior lawyers.

Saying that, a career break can be a very exciting opportunity for junior lawyers to expand their experience, understand their motivations and help develop the right kind of soft skills needed for their legal career.

In the past, work experience was valued more than emotional intelligence – i.e. the ability to engage with people and thrive in teams, as well as problem-solve. Now things are changing due to the legal tech revolution, which is certainly changing the role of lawyers. Law firms need personable lawyers who can establish trust and good working relationships with their clients.

In order for you as a junior solicitor to get the most out of your career break, it’s good to get the GDL, LPC and training contract under your belt first, before of course applying for the latest reality TV gameshow. This will demonstrate to future employers that you are committed to a career in the law profession and have the right experience to start off with. Here a few other things to consider before taking a career break:

What do you hope to gain from the experience? If you can only include on your CV gambling your savings at a Vegas casino or glugging back a bucket mixer at the full-moon party, it might be worth reassessing how you can utilise your time away to boost your career prospects. Working abroad, learning a new language or volunteering demonstrate to future employers that you’re motivated to take the plunge and try something new, as well as being committed to developing your skills.

How long should your break be? Remember that any break longer than a year means you will need to reapply for a practising certificate, as well as demonstrate that you are competent to practise. If a break that long makes you feel nervous, two to three months may be best for you. Check if your law firm offers an opportunity to take a secondment or sabbatical.

How will it help your career in the long run? If you went from university straight to training contract, some time away from the legal bubble can help you reflect and reassess what you want from your legal career. There are many paths to choose – it could be that your goal is partnership, to be a professional support lawyer or to work flexibly as a contract lawyer. Working out how your break can help you climb the legal ladder to achieve your career ambitions is really important. For instance, you may use your time away to gain experience in an industry that you are keen to specialise in.

Consider flexible work. When you return from your break, it might be that the traditional working pattern just doesn’t suit – if this sounds familiar, contract lawyering might be an option to give you more control over your day-to-day work/life balance and offer more variety to the sort of legal work you’re doing.

As well as a love interest in Mallorca, a legal career is worth grafting for. Crack on with your break, but remember to make the most out of it for your legal career.

Matthew Kay is director at Vario for Pinsent Masons.