Career Break Returner Coaching: 5 strategies for a confident return.

Career Progression
January 2023

Career break returners only need share with non-lawyer friends a few of their concerns about returning to Chambers to appreciate the uniqueness of life at the self-employed Bar. For starters, maternity policies and career break return initiatives vary wildly from one set of Chambers to another, if they exist at all. And, unlike in the solicitors’ profession, there’s no HR department to successfully oversee the management of maternity leave, or safely navigate “Keep in Touch” days to gradually transition back into the workplace.

Individual barristers have different requirements and expectations around what a happy, healthy, positive return to work looks like. Even for me, during my 19 years at the Criminal Bar, each of my 3 career break returns looked very different, both in terms of the amount of time I had off and the childcare options I chose. No “one size fits all”.

Going back to work after maternity leave is, understandably, a big shift. Whatever the scenario,change inevitably brings with it feelings of uncertainty, wavering self-confidence, at worst, even isolation. Day to day work, once second nature can become more challenging. Returners may feel rusty with both legal knowledge and the introduction of new technology or enhanced case/diary management systems. Time ownership becomes difficult. Perhaps with a change in clerking/admin staff or members of Chambers, returners feel further at sea, compounded by the fact that their return to work can often also signal the first use of “external” childcare.

Other common returner challenges include:

·      career progression, particularly when another baby may still be on the cards;

·      working parent guilt; and

·      work life “balance” (or “juggle” depending on your point of view).

Yet these themes are reassuringly commonplace, providing returners with opportunity for some quick wins to safely navigate a successful return.

Here are 5 strategies to support a confident return:

1. Ease the Transition

Think how you can use all the tools at your disposal through Chambers to make the transition back as smooth as possible:

·       Have meetings with clerks before the date of your return to discuss the type of return you envisage. Good communication is paramount. Communicate with them clearly, both verbally and in writing, so they not only hear what it is you are communicating about back to work expectations but more importantly that they understand, and support, it.

·       Consider a phased return to help upskill on new technology/ current working practices whilst preparing you and baby for the impending change in routine.

·       Align yourself with, and listen to the shared experiences of, supportive Chambers colleagues, and those within your network more widely.

2. Mind your Mindset

Beaware of the impact of mindset on a successful return. Work hard to adopt apositive mind-set:

·       Focuson the positives – your skills and strengths that commend you both to Chambers and instructing solicitors - to support you in doing a great job on your return. That way, you will silence the inner critic, or at least turn down the volume on any negative self-doubt.

·       Use positive, empowering language.

·       Develop your “game-face”. It may take some conscious effort, but with practice it soon becomes second nature.

3. Own Time

For the first time in their working lives, career break returners can face a new, non-negotiable, external demand on their time – the nursery pick up – which has to happen at a certain time every day without exception, whether or not a piece of work is finished. Having said that, far from being “half in” or “knocking off early”, I see returner clients experience soaring levels of productivity, despite the challenges of an increasingly 24/7 hour world of digital distraction.

So how can you successfully replicate this?

·       Plan your day by putting tasks in to order of priority.

·       Be fully present in whatever task it is you are tackling at any one time.

·       Ensure opportunities to be distracted or procrastinate are kept to a minimum by turning off phone/ email/ social media notifications, even engaging airplane mode for times when deeper levels of concentration and focus are required.

·       Consider whether it is possible to increase the use of CVP hearings to better navigate the new demands on your time.

4. Learn to Say No

As hard as many of us find it, learning to say no can be an important skill to developto ensure healthy boundaries are set at work and home. That way, returnersavoid taking on so much they feel they are doing everything badly rather than a few things well.

A brief check in with yourself before agreeing to any task is helpful:

·       Whose plan am I working to?

·       To what am I prepared to say yes?

Communicatingthe latter to clerks will be better received than telling them what it is youWON’T do, helping to preserve your reputation as a team player whilst practising the art of saying no.

5. Coaching around career progression and female talent retention

Career break return success doesn’t always come via easy wins. A more strategic approach through coaching, playing the longer game, can also be helpful. Looking at the bigger picture in coaching sessions and having the “what next?” conversations around career progression have also been credited with improving returner retention rates in the legal profession.

Initially in coaching, first thoughts often rest on the practicalities of “surviving” a return, in terms of the all too familiar work life/ childcare “juggle”. But once the day-to-dayroutine settles, discussions around short, medium and long term career goals,and making an action plan to get there, very quickly reveal ambition, a desire to succeed, and workable steps to achievement. Potential is tapped. Doors of possibility to thrive in law are opened. New-found determination and clarityare harnessed.

With coaching support, I see time and again returners not only retained, but also seekingcareer progression and elevation within the ranks (perhaps to silk or the Bench), more quickly than they otherwise would without that intervention. One of my proudest business stats to date is that of the 100+ women I have coached on a one-to-one basis over the past 6+ years in business, each and every one of them has been retained by the legal profession. The consequent knock-oncommercial benefits to Chambers are obvious. What’s not to love, then, for all concerned?

This blog introduces some of the topics dealt with in Nikki’s Return with Confidence Career Break Return Webinar which also includes interactive coaching exercises. For more information on how to book the webinar or one-to-one coaching sessions, please contact Nikki at or on 07956 612190, read Raising the Bar: Empowering Female Lawyers through Coaching or visit

Nikki Alderson, specialist coach, speaker, author, and former Criminal Barrister. She is the author of Amazon No.1 Bestseller Raising the Bar: empowering female lawyers through coaching, nominee for 2019 Inspirational Women Awards, and finalist in 2020 Women in Law Awards and 2019 International Coaching Awards.

• supports legal organisations retain female talent; and

• empowers female lawyers to achieve career ambitions. Nikki specialises in:

• Women leadership;

• Enhanced career break returner support; and

• Workplace resilience, confidence and wellness.

Our blog