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How to plan ahead for maternity leave

Written by: Richard Simmons
Published on: 23 May 2016

How to plan article

There is much a successful lawyer on the cusp of starting a family can do to ensure maternity transition is a success. Careful planning increases the likelihood they will return at the end of their leave and do so with the knowledge, skills and support to manage their career with care responsibilities. Based on the women I have coached here are the areas women should consider.

Focus on your career

Maternity can be a great opportunity to take stock and develop or refocus your career. Don’t shy away from career conversations just because you won’t be around for the next six to 12 months.

Think about whether your current role or client coverage plays to your strengths and supports your longer-term career goals. If not, what do you need to do to change this on your return? Have you conveyed your strengths to your bosses? What conversations do you want key influencers to be having about your future before you go on leave?

Identify your internal and external support team

Continuously talk to your supervising partner / line manager about your transition, not forgetting your team who can be a great support for you while you are off.

Your HR team will advise on maternity-related policies including practical advice regarding your firm’s approach to leave and return.

Consider what level of contact you want while on leave

The default position of many organisations is to keep contact to a minimum, unless you invite it as they won’t want to disturb or encroach on your maternity leave. Think ahead and make clear to colleagues how you wish to stay in touch so you are sufficiently in the loop.

If you are keen to return you will want to reconnect with work during the second half of your leave so creating the set up before you go to do this is critical.

Prioritise your network

A successful career in law is inextricably linked to a lawyer’s ability to bring in new business through internal and external client networks. You might want to keep established networks warm while on leave but make sure you manage client and partner expectations around the level of contact you will be able to offer. A warm network will make your return as smooth as possible.

Be proactive in planning your handover

Mention of handing over a case can make some partners and clients nervous. We recommend allowing sufficient time to reassure clients their case has been transferred to a safe pair of hands and that you take a lead in planning your handover.

Identify opportunities to kick-start your handover. If an antenatal appointment or holiday necessities handing over work is it possible to leave it with the covering person? Do also remember that you may have to leave earlier than planned.

Understand what it takes to balance work and home life

The most frequent comment I hear from new mothers recently returned to work is that nothing could have prepared them for the impact home life has on work life and vice versa. Post children some say their focus shifts from linear career progression to finding practical ways to manage both home and work.

Whether it is as a first-time mum planning maternity leave or a mother planning to return to work after second or third children, it’s helpful to connect with others within your firm or through external networks such as CityParents.

Discuss with your partner early how you will both manage your childcare and career responsibilities. What decisions might you need to make as a couple to enable you to both pursue your career and family aspirations?

Think about what you can do before going on leave to achieve greater balance and flexibility on your return and start to make those changes.

Sharing your plans before you leave

While there is no obligation to share your plans for return with your employer or colleagues if you do have a clear idea it’s helpful to build support for your plans before you go. Obviously it’s a good idea to caveat plans as “subject to change” once the baby arrives.

Make the most of a golden opportunity

Aside from your baby one of the biggest bonuses of maternity leave is the opportunity to evaluate what you want from your life and career. Invest time before you go on maternity leave to consider the career opportunities and balance you would like to return to.

Emma Spitz has over twelve years experience advising City law firms and coaching female lawyers on their career development.