It can be a scary prospect – the thought of stepping away from your deskbound duties and taking a sabbatical. You may question what your colleagues or management think or fear about this break in proceedings and how this will impact your career development. But having some respite from the day-to-day and returning with a clear perspective can enhance your performance and help you take more initiative in your role. Recently I discussed how increased flexibility in the legal sector is encouraging lawyers in Asia to switch to working as legal consultants. Despite these initiatives in countries and city-states such as Singapore, many still work in the traditional manner but work culture is changing.

However more professional services companies in Asia have been leading the way when it comes to offering career breaks – dubbed ‘sabbaticals’. For example, Maybank financial services offers guaranteed employment during a ‘career break’, from two to 24 months for their employees, realising that it can help their business remain competitive and retain the best talent.

Taking a sabbatical doesn’t necessarily mean taking a ‘break’ from your career but it is an opportunity to further your professional growth. This could range from trying out more flexible ways of working for a period – for example working as a legal consultant rather than in-house in a firm, setting up a business on the side or working abroad. Trying out something new at any stage of your legal career can lead to a refreshed approach for when you’re back at your desk. But, how can you really utilise this time away, by not seeing it as an extended holiday but a time to hone your existing hard and soft skills and learn something new?

– Work on your Continuing Professional Development

Enjoy the headspace away from your job to work on your CPD. As part of your role and conditions under your registration you will need to achieve a certain number of points per year. Taking time to train without the distraction of the day-to-day obligations will help improve your focus and get more from these learning opportunities. Attend seminars, conferences and get stuck into a workshop. Make the most of the connections you make at these events, these conversations could lead to great career opportunities.

– Strengthen your emotional intelligence

Problem-solving, clear communication, time management and conflict resolution are all skills that may be undervalued but are important for your legal career. Use a sabbatical to work temporarily in a different role to improve certain soft skills – for example working as a teacher or a community volunteer, as well as being rewarding it can help develop your interpersonal, teamwork and leadership skills.

– Work flexibly or as a legal consultant

Instead of taking a ‘clean’ break, ask your employers if they would consider you working flexibly on a full-time or a part-time basis. More government support in Asian countries for employers to offer flexible working is encouraging – so check out what your firm can offer. Alternatively, why not work as a legal consultant for a short period, this can give more variety in terms of work and more control over work-life balance.

Posted by Matthew Kay

Matthew Kay is Director of Vario, from Pinsent Masons

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