Senior Associate;A&O: 2001-2013; 2018-present
Support Lawyer for Brexit;
A&O welcomed back 365 ‘boomerangs’ in three years. Surprised?
Boomerangs – the popular phrase for people returning to an organisation after working elsewhere – represented 14-18% of global hires every year for A&O between 2015 and 2018. That’s far above the ‘gold standard’ of 10% often cited in the HR industry.
It’s not a localised phenomenon either: 31 A&O offices benefited from the return of those boomerangs. Clearly something is bringing people back.
To get the inside story, we talked to four boomerangs about why they left, why they’ve come back and what’s changed at A&O in their time away.
“A lot of organisations talk about flexibility but actually don’t offer many options. I feel lucky to be in a firm that has given me real choices at every stage of my career.”
Katharine Aldridge is a senior associate in the Real Estate department in London. She left her fee-earning role in 2009 to work part-time in the Business Acceptance Unit and then as a Knowledge Management lawyer. In 2013, she left London and A&O, but returned to Peerpoint the following year. She rejoined A&O in 2018.
There have been several milestones in my career so far – getting a training contract with A&O; qualifying into the Real Estate team; moving out of fee-earning work – but the real turning point for me came in 2014. I’d moved from London to Oxford the year before and left A&O after 12 years. I presumed that living quite far outside of London would make working there too hard.
However, six months after we moved to Oxford, I received an email from an A&O colleague in the Knowledge Management team. She got in touch through the Alumni Network to tell me about a new platform A&O had launched, Peerpoint, which was building a group of high-calibre consultant lawyers to work on fixed-term assignments for both clients and A&O. I signed up straightaway.
By this point in my career, I’d had four years of working part-time at A&O as well as time on maternity leave. Being able to switch from fee-earning to in-house roles worked well for me while I had young children – and, professionally, managing conflict challenges and keeping on top of legal developments gave me a valuable wider view of the business.
When I heard about Peerpoint, I felt this could be a turning point. I could get back to being a lawyer, while still balancing home life. It was the perfect opportunity: I was able to do interesting, high level work, mostly with colleagues I already knew in the Real Estate team.
Peerpoint allowed me to maintain my long-term working relationships and stay up-to-date on the law and market practices. I didn’t need to travel to London much as everything about Peerpoint is set up for flexible working.
Four years on, I rejoined the Real Estate team in London as a senior associate. I work four days a week, one from home, so it’s a manageable balance. It can be challenging, but it works as long as you’re well organised and have a strong team around you, which I do.
I’m so pleased to be back working with colleagues across the firm and leading the big transactions again – and I don’t think it would have been possible without Peerpoint. It kept my options open at a time when I thought I’d had to make a tough choice to step away from fee-earning. Without having worked as a consultant, I would have been out of law for too long to return as a senior associate.
Being back in the London office, I don’t feel a huge amount has changed. The restaurant – East One – has had a nice refurbishment but, other than that, it’s the same A&O: the same friendly atmosphere, collegiate way of working and focus on getting the job done well for clients.
One change I have noticed, though, is a greater support for flexible working patterns. I see more people – men and women – using iFlex (the informal flexible working scheme) as well as having formal arrangements, like me.
This clearly makes sense. It’s sometimes more efficient to work at home than being in an office five days a week, and technology makes this possible. I get the sense A&O is ahead of the curve on this within the legal sector.
A lot of organisations talk about flexibility but actually don’t offer many options. I feel lucky to be in a firm that has given me real choices at every stage of my career – to go in-house part-time; become a consultant; and now be a senior associate again.
I couldn’t have planned all these stages but I know that greater choice has given me greater control of my career in return for dedication and hard work.
“Little has changed in my team apart from a couple of associates moving elsewhere in the A&O network. That’s a real reflection of our culture.”
Simon Huxley is a partner in the Energy and Resources team in Sydney, specialising in clean energy and emission reduction projects. He left A&O in 2016 and returned in 2018.
I first joined A&O as a senior associate in Singapore. I’d been working in London since 2007, with a focus on renewable energy and carbon trading, and was keen to broaden my experience into conventional energy and infrastructure. I was considering opportunities across Asia and the Middle East and jumped at an opportunity to join A&O in Singapore when it arose.
I was incredibly impressed with the whole A&O package. The global footprint, professionalism and quality stood out. Joining the Projects team in Asia was fantastic – immediately there was a larger deal flow and I felt part of a cohesive regional practice.
I remember being in a client meeting in my first week and listening to Banking partner Jason Humphreys explain to the client that we were entirely flexible about where the deal was run: A&O could offer a team based in Jakarta, Tokyo or Singapore. It sounds so simple but I was used to partners excluding others to hold on to work – not actively promoting colleagues. Being in an environment where partners were comfortable letting clients choose the solutions that worked best was refreshing.
Not long after I arrived in Singapore, A&O opened its offices in Australia and I started working across the Corporate and Project Finance practices in Sydney, Perth, Singapore, Tokyo and Jakarta. Over time, the pull of family and friends meant that I relocated back home to Sydney with A&O, but I continued to work in the same way across large Asian project finance transactions.
Leaving A&O was the hardest career decision I’ve ever made. The longer I spent at A&O, the more I realised how much I valued the culture of collaboration and the diversity of people and work I was exposed to. I’d been promoted to counsel but had also received a number of partnership offers from various firms. Ultimately, my ambition took hold and I felt it was necessary to test myself in the market as a partner sooner than the time frame available at A&O.
I joined DLA Piper as a partner in 2016. It was a great opportunity and I’ll be forever grateful for my time there. I worked with some fantastic partners and still call a number of them good friends and mentors. Stepping out of the security of A&O into the unknown of leading a practice in a new firm was a great challenge that can’t be overstated.
However, leaving highlighted for me what A&O does so well. It was the culture and nature of the work I missed the most. Collaboration between our people, offices and practice groups is part of the DNA here and is so important to our value proposition for clients. It ensures we’re comfortable proposing teams entirely tailored around the needs of our clients rather than the needs of the firm.
I’d continued my friendships with Adam Stapledon (Head of Projects in Sydney) and various other A&O partners after I left. I think we were all feeling it would make sense to join forces again – we were good friends and had so many common contacts and complementary skills – but there was also a dose of pride preventing us from tackling the subject! We’d ask each other over a few beers how things were going with work and we’d all say: ‘Great!’ It was only when I started progressing discussions with another firm that Adam and I talked openly about my returning to A&O.
Coming back has felt like returning home. Little has changed in my team apart from a couple of associates moving elsewhere in the A&O network. That’s a real reflection of our culture. Stability and strong relationships are what allow a collaborative environment to flourish – but I’ve realised it’s not easy to achieve.
Looking at the future for our team, we’re focused on integrating ourselves even more fully within the Asia Pacific region. Multilingual skills are becoming more important – European as well as key Asian languages such as Japanese, Korean and Mandarin – and we also want to attract lawyers with STEM backgrounds as it boosts our sector expertise. Most importantly, we’re about finding people who can build relationships – brilliant lawyers, of course, but the days of hiring bookish specialists are gone.
“I trusted and respected the people, and I could see the firm had continued to grow in strength.”
Paul Burns is a partner in New York specialising in M&A and general corporate matters. He has been general counsel at several large companies and rejoined A&O for the second time in 2017.
I’ve been lucky to have had more opportunities in my career than I might have anticipated as a young associate 20 years ago. I’m so glad to be back at A&O after having had several general counsel roles within big corporates, as well as a COO role at an energy company.
A little more than a decade into my career in law – at Cravath and A&O in both New York and London – I decided to move into a general counsel role. I’d always been curious about how different it would feel to be on the other end of the lawyer-client relationship.
What I learned was that you’re more of a generalist in-house; part of a business team. As general counsel, you advise on such a wide variety of issues that you gain breadth, but perhaps at the expense of depth. For instance, in my pharma role, I was dealing with issues of compliance, ethics, corporate charity and medical trials, as well as straightforward legal issues.
Questions around business practices and commercial decision-making were especially interesting to me – for instance, how do you price something or decide what business opportunity to pursue? By great luck I was given the chance to take on a COO role in a relatively young field. There I discovered that, as with most things, it’s a case of becoming as expert as you can on any given topic in the time available, negotiating the best deal possible and going with your gut.
My decision to return to a law firm was specifically about A&O. I’d been offered opportunities with other firms but didn’t seriously consider them. At A&O, I trusted and respected the people, and I could see the firm had continued to grow in strength, both in the Corporate department and in its broader profile and geographical coverage. Equally, I had a good feeling about the leadership.
When I returned to A&O in 2015, the U.S. practice had obviously developed, particularly with the office in Washington D.C. I also recognised A&O’s emphasis on leadership and values – things I didn’t realise I cared about until my experiences in the corporate world showed me their importance.
I left A&O again briefly because a client asked me to help out. It was a decision taken with my team and we felt it was a good opportunity: I could genuinely help the client and perhaps also be helpful to A&O. Even then, I had in mind the possibility of returning to A&O. Workplaces are increasingly fluid so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of this in the future.
Being back at A&O, it strikes me how focused we are on being at the forefront of changes to the provision of legal services in the future. I see major developments in flexible staffing, the role of technology and AI, as well as sector specialisms. In all these areas, we’re pushing ourselves to do more – before clients have to – which shows authentic vision.
I also see a greater determination to recruit and promote people from different backgrounds. If we don’t, we’ll be missing out on a significant talent pool – it’s like we’ll be in a room talking to ourselves and we won’t really know the full world that’s out there.
Making decisions and moving forward in life always involve challenges. I’ve learned that you have to be clear on what you want from your career and your life, test your thinking with people who know you, and – importantly – recognise there’s no such thing as a perfect decision. Information and perspective is always limited, but, whatever you do, you have to take a step forward.
I’m excited to be back at a place with the kind of people and potential that A&O has.
“The firm’s approach to flexible working has moved on a lot, which is a positive thing.”
Oonagh Harrison is a Senior Professional Support Lawyer (PSL). She left A&O in 2016 but returned at the start of 2018 to take up the role of specialist Brexit PSL.
If someone had asked me at the start of my career what I’d be doing now, I wouldn’t have said this! I couldn’t have predicted I’d be advising on the process of Britain leaving the EU and the enormous impact it will have on A&O and our clients. It’s a fascinating role and a one-off opportunity that I’m glad I returned for.
I first joined A&O in 2012 as a senior PSL. I’d been a senior lawyer in a global bank before that, and was drawn to the incredible reputation of A&O’s Financial Services Regulation team.
I’d been in the team for only a couple of weeks when Bob Penn, one of the regulatory partners, came into my office and said: “I’ve been approached about a great opportunity… would you be keen?”
Bob had recently given evidence to the UK Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which, following the financial crisis, was appointed by both Houses of Parliament to consider and report on the professional standards and culture of the UK banking sector. The commission needed extra legal resource so, just a few weeks after joining A&O, I found myself seconded there.
It was an eye-opening experience to see the inner workings of Parliament and, as it turns out, incredibly useful for my role now. It also helped me develop some great contacts across different parts of the financial services industry. I stayed at the commission for eight months before returning to A&O.
In 2016, my family and I decided we would relocate to Cheltenham so I left A&O to take up a training and know-how role at Osborne Clarke, with the aim of moving to its Bristol office when we relocated. My time at A&O gave me a lot of confidence to pick up any new financial services legislation and get stuck in, but I quickly missed the clients and team. I’d stayed in touch with friends at the firm and around a year later made the decision to ask if I could return.
I’m so happy to be back at A&O but I also don’t regret leaving. The experience has taught me that it’s okay to admit a career choice wasn’t the right one. In good organisations, options are still open after you’ve left.
Having that time away made me think about what I wanted from my career, especially now my children are getting older. I’m not sure I would have done that if I hadn’t experienced a know-how role elsewhere. A&O provides an amazing platform for the PSL role and you have the chance to grab some incredible opportunities.
It’s an interesting time for know-how lawyers. Given the onslaught of new legislation across so many areas, we all need to be able to adapt and pick up new skills. The key will be in developing ways of delivering up-to-date, client-tailored know-how through a range of media that keeps audiences engaged.
While many things are familiar back at A&O, I’ve definitely noticed some changes. The firm’s approach to flexible working has moved on a lot, which is a positive thing. The launch of Fuse (the tech innovation space in London) is also an exciting development and shows we’re serious about understanding and investing in the future of the legal industry in different ways. I’m glad to be a part of it.
Remember Simon, Katharine, Paul or Oonagh? Reconnect with them using the member directory at allenovery.com/alumni