About the OnRamp Fellowship

The Problem

The legal profession has a leaky pipeline.  Plenty of high-performers enter the profession, but many of these lawyers – women in particular – leave within a few years. In large U.S. firms, for instance, there is typically a 50/50 gender split at the entry-level, but only 16-19% of partners are women.  The same phenomenon exists in legal departments and in financial services firms, which has contributed to a deficit of women in the leadership ranks.

Why? Many leave to raise children or manage other family obligations. Others just aren’t a good fit for type of work they chose early in their careers.

Once these lawyers exit the workforce, it’s not easy to get back in.  Since organizations usually hire and advance experienced professionals based on seniority and tenure, it’s difficult for a returning lawyer and her potential employer to know where she fits into the traditional structure upon re-entry.  And, in most law firms, it is virtually impossible for an experienced lawyer to re-engineer her practice because of the rigid billable rate structure that is typically tied to years of experience. This structure forces skilled lawyers who are not a fit for their current practice area to change jobs or exit the profession for other opportunities.

Because of the re-entry and retooling challenges, there is an untapped pool of experienced high-performers who have a strong desire to return to and advance in the legal and financial services industries.  A 2010 study by the Center for Work-Life Policy found that 73 percent of women trying to return to the workforce after a voluntary timeout for childcare or other reasons have difficulty finding a job.

In a market that remains tremendously competitive for top talent, the leaders of these top organizations cannot afford to overlook this unique collection of highly-talented, diverse professionals.  So, how do organizations identify and recapture this incredibly valuable asset?

The Solution

One solution is the OnRamp Fellowship.

The Fellowship is a re-entry platform that matches experienced lawyers returning to the workforce with top organizations for six month and one-year paid positions.  This unique experiential learning program gives returning lawyers – many of whom opted out of the workforce for a period of time to raise children – an opportunity to demonstrate their value in the marketplace while also increasing their experience, skills, and contacts.

The Fellowship initially launched with four law firms in the U.S. in January 2014.  Due to the success of the pilot program, the Fellowship has now expanded to include more than 30 of the world’s top law firms, legal departments (Amazon, HPE, Microsoft, BMO and others) and a financial services firm (Barclays) in the U.S., Australia, and the UK.

The goal of the Fellowship is to replenish the talent pipeline in leading organizations with experienced women and other lawyers who have the potential and the desire to advance into leadership roles.  Law firms, legal departments, and financial services firms that participate in the Fellowship gain access to an untapped group of experienced, diverse high performers who want to return to the profession but face unique challenges due to the gaps in their résumés.

To facilitate successful Fellowship placements, applicants are rigorously screened and matched with organizations based on cultural fit and the success traits that are essential for advancement.  If selected for the Fellowship, the returning women are also provided career-development support through: (1) unlimited access to online continuing education through PLI; (2) training by specialists in negotiations, project management, business development, and leadership; and (3) one-on-one coaching by the most reputable career experts in the legal and financial services industries.

A fellow who does excellent work will conclude the Fellowship with a current professional reference that can be leveraged as she pursues her next endeavor.  And, if a relevant position is available, the fellow can interview with the organization for a longer-term role in a particular group.

The Final Outcomes

The end result is a diverse high performer who returns to the workforce with upgraded skills and experience, additional contacts, an excellent reference, and a renewed ambition to service clients. In turn, the legal and financial services professions and individual organizations benefit by engaging with a previously untapped pool of high-performing talent and, hopefully, increased gender diversity in the mid-to-senior level ranks.