All posts by Caren

Law360, “4 BigLaw Firms Join Female Attorney ‘Returnship’ Program”

BigLaw’s first program for women returning to legal careers after an extended hiatus got even bigger on Monday, as Covington & Burling LLP, Goodwin Procter LLP, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP and Fox Rothschild LLP announced they will begin offering fellowships.

 

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, “Going Back to Work”

Full Story Link:  http://www.chicagolawbulletin.com/Articles/2015/01/30/OnRamp-Fellowship-01-30-15.aspx

For female lawyers who left the workforce, ‘returnship’ can be a huge boost

BY JAMIE LOO, LAW BULLETIN STAFF WRITER

A few years ago, when Pamela L. Zdunek began considering a return to the legal profession after a 21-year absence, the economy had just tanked.

A career counselor told her even recent Harvard Law School graduates couldn’t get jobs as paralegals, much less lawyers with 20 years of experience.

“Needless to say, that was a bleak time for me,” she said. “I just didn’t see how I would ever get back into the legal profession to practice — and certainly not at a firm.”

About a year ago, Zdunek met a woman at a networking event who suggested she apply for an OnRamp Fellowship, a new program designed to help women re- enter the legal profession.

After landing a spot in the inaugural class and spending her fellowship at Sidley, Austin LLP, she’s now been hired as a full- time associate at the firm.

Zdunek was part of a panel on law firm “returnship” programs Thursday, sponsored by the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives and held at Locke, Lord, Edwards LLP.

Law firm attorney-development professionals and corporate career re-entry experts spoke about the benefits of such programs to law firms, including maintaining a leadership pipeline and giving a talented attorney an opportunity to return to the workforce.

In her more than 20 years of experience in lawyer recruitment and development at big law firms, Caren Ulrich Stacey said she often had to make an extra effort to convince practice group leaders to consider a female applicant with a gap on her resume.

With that in mind, Stacey founded the Boulder, Colo.-based OnRamp program last year to help female attorneys looking to re-enter the workforce — women she refers to as “returners.”

An important part of preparing law firms for placing such women was interviewing managing partners and other lawyers to find out what makes attorneys successful in an organization for the long term.

“The things that have made these attorneys most successful are not their technical skills, it’s not their lawyering skills,” she said. “It’s their mindset, it’s their attitude, it’s how they’ve figured out how to manage home and work.”

Those conversations, Stacey said, helped staff at the firms recognize the value of returners’ skills, which fosters a more welcoming workplace environment that makes it easier for program participants to transition back in.

A returnship program is a low-risk investment for law firms, Stacey said, because it gives them a chance to see a participant’s work product and doesn’t require them to hire the person at the end.

OnRamp rigorously screens its participants and works with firms to find a fellow that is the right fit for them.

The program requires firms to provide an opportunity to the

fellow to work on complex legal projects and a partner adviser that can provide support and feedback.

Firms pay a $125,000 stipend to the returner, which Stacey said alleviates concerns about billable-hour quotas and a set billing rate. While clients are sometimes unwilling to pay high rates for work by inexperienced associates, the set stipend encourages them to want fellows working on their matters.

“I wanted to make the risk so low for both the law firm and the client that they could say ‘put the fellow on it’ because they know she’s good, she’s got experience,” Stacey said.

The stipend is less than the salary of a first- or second-year Big Law associate, Stacey said, and many fellows said they’re comfortable with that because it erases some of the guilt they feel about their work capabilities.

If a group is working until 2 a.m., for example, that lesser pay grade makes it more comfortable for a returner to leave work at 11 p.m. if she needs to.

While many people think men in an organization are the biggest obstacle to returnship programs, Stacey said, many are surprisingly their biggest supporters.

“They see their wives having these issues, their sisters and they’re worried about their daughters having this issue,” she said. “So they have been fully embracing it.”

Stacey has seen friction with some women who didn’t stop working to raise their families, perhaps irritated that other women made that choice and are now trying to return. The key, she said, is confronting those tensions immediately and discussing them honestly and openly.

Eventually, the program began to attract clients’ attention, Stacey said. Some began to request a fellow work on their case, as they were curious about the program. Some have contacted Stacey about developing similar programs in their internal legal departments.

Participants in the pilot stage of the program last year were Sidley; Baker, Botts LLP; Cooley LLP; and Hogan, Lovells.

Zdunek, who was the only Chicago-based fellow last year, and four other fellows have all been hired into full-time positions by their firms. Fifteen firms have signed onto the program for this year and are offering 80 positions in 24 cities.

The program does require a time investment to develop internal support for the fellows and set up coaching and training systems, said Sidley partner Elizabeth K. McCloy. Some fellows are trying out new practice areas, she said, and firms need to be patient as they catch up on changes in the law and new technology.

The bigger time commitment is getting others in the firm onboard and telling them about the program so a fellow doesn’t have to explain herself and her role constantly.

A common issue in law firms, McCloy said, is creating a pipeline to leadership for women, and the OnRamp program’s goal to bring talented women back into the workforce is part of a solution.

“They can serve and have served as mentors to our associates,” she said. “It’s a twist that not many people think of, and I think it’s important to see that side of it as well.”

Panelists also offered advice to women who are preparing to leave the profession and those looking to re-enter.

Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of the career re-entry website iRelaunch, said women should plan on doing quality work right before leaving so they’re leaving a strong impression of themselves on fellow colleagues and managers.

That helps when reconnecting with people, she said, and those contacts build personal self-confidence for re-entry.

Cohen said women should focus on maintaining relationships with people at all levels of an organization.

“Be aware of people who are junior to you,” she said. “Because those junior people will be moving up while you’re on a career break and sometimes will be in a position to open a door for you.”

These connections can also help overcome a resume gap and recruiters’ concerns about an applicant being overqualified. Rather than trying to go through a recruiter, Cohen said, it’s more beneficial to use personal connections and social networking to get an initial interview.

Being up front with a hiring manager that you’re pursuing a certain position because it’s the right fit for you and your current life stage and obligations can make a big difference, she said.

“Sometimes, employers just need to hear that directly from you,” she said.

Cohen said the financial services industry — firms such as Deloitte, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs — and academia have embraced returnship programs, and she anticipates more industries will catch onto it in the future.

The legal industry now has plenty of returnship models to draw from, Stacey said, it’s now just a matter of firms making a commitment to launch them.

Returners should also have confidence and not be afraid to jump back in, she said.

“Your heads did not roll off your bodies just because you took a break,” she said. “Part of my job is to get employers to see what you bring to the table now and even do better.”

Law360, “BigLaw ‘Returnship’ Gears Up for Expansion”

BigLaw  ‘Returnship’  Program  Gears  Up  For Expansion

By  Melissa Maleske

Law360,  New  York  (January  30,  2015,  4:49  PM  ET)  -­-­  A  year  after  its  launch,  law  firms  are lining  up  to  join  BigLaw’s  first  fellowship  program  to  help  women  who  took  breaks  from legal  careers  transition  back  to  law  firms,  the  program’s  founder  said  Thursday.

Since  the  OnRamp  Fellowship’s  four-­firm  launch,  11  more  firms  have  joined  the  effort  and another  15  have  asked  to  participate,  founder  Caren  Ulrich  Stacy  told  fellow  panelists  and audience  members  at  Thursday’s  panel  discussion  “Attorneys  in  Transition:  Returnships”  at Locke  Lord  LLP  in  Chicago.

“We  will  likely  expand,  albeit  slowly,  with  five  more  firms  in  the  next  month  or  so,”  she said.  “We  are  also  likely  adding  legal  departments  to  the  mix  later  this  year.”

The  OnRamp  program  grants  fellowships  within  law  firms  to  women  returning  to  full-­time legal  careers  after  taking  long  hiatuses,  often  to  raise  children  or  care  for  other  relatives. There  were  nine  fellows  in  OnRamp’s  inaugural  2014  class,  and  the  program  placed  five more  in  January.

“Our  hope  is  to  bring  back  40  to  50  women  into  the  profession  by  year-­end,”  Stacy  said.

The  fellowship  is  similar  to  a  law  firm  summer  associate  program,  with  attorneys  working for  discrete  periods  within  law  firms.  It  serves  almost  as  an  extended  interview  for potential  future  permanent  employment.

The  program  aims  to  address  a  leak  in  the  pipeline  that  results  in  far  more  male  partners in  law  firms  than  women,  even  when  firms  hire  both  sexes  in  equal  numbers.

Stacy  said  employers  don’t  have  to  wait  for  OnRamp’s  capacity  to  grow.  She  encouraged law  firms  and  other  employers  to  use  OnRamp  as  a  model,  emphasizing  that  they  need  to put  in  the  work  for  it  to  succeed.

The  OnRamp  fellowships  hinge  not  just  on  placement  in  a  top  law  firm  but  also  on  the support  the  OnRampers  receive  leading  up  to  and  during  their  fellowship,  from  resume  and interview  advice  to  mentorship  and  feedback  throughout  year.

Fellows  are  readied  for  their  return  to  the  workplace  with  advice  and  crash  courses  that range  from  CLE-­eligible  legal  refreshers  to  tips  on  what  to  wear  to  an  interview  in  2015.

Sidley  Austin  LLP  has  four  OnRamp  fellows,  and  Sidley  partner  Liz  McCloy  said  it  was important  to  vet  the  candidates  to  find  the  best  fit  for  each  participating  firm  and  to  mentor the  fellows  throughout  their  year.

The  firms  need  to  educate  their  people,  too.  Interviewers  should  know  the  candidate  is  not a  typical  lateral  hire,  for  instance.

McCloy  also  said  that  since  the  firms  make  no  commitment  to  hire  the  fellow,  they  have little  to  lose.  OnRamp  requires  that  law  firms  pay  the  fellows  $125,000  for  the  year, purposely  pegging  the  pay  packages  to  the  standard  starting  associate  salary  to  take  the pressure  off  the  fellow  and  to  make  hiring  fellows  a  risk-­free  initiative.

Stacy  says  some  firms’  clients  have  even  requested  that  the  firm  assign  fellows  to  their matters.

The  fellows  are  attractive  to  them  because  they  have  low  rates,  she  said,  but  she  suspects the  clients  are  also  interested  in  the  OnRamp  program  and  how  hiring  career-­returners could  work  for  their  company.  Once  employers  start  to  see  that  they  can  benefit  by  helping qualified,  highly  educated  women  return  to  work,  there  won’t  be  a  need  for  programs  like OnRamp,  she  said.

The  panelists  also  gave  advice  to  women  who  are  returning  to  the  workforce  and  employers interested  in  launching  their  own  initiatives  aimed  at  career  re-­entry.  Two  women  spoke  of the  challenges  of  returning  to  the  office,  especially  the  technology  learning  curve  they confronted.

Carol  Fishman  Cohen,  founder  of  iRelaunch,  related  learning  to  do  a  spreadsheet  analysis  in Excel  after  her  return  to  Bain  Capital  from  an  11-­year  hiatus  from  the  business  world  —  she had  learned  on  Lotus  Notes.

“Every  lawyer  didn’t  have  a  computer  20  years  ago,”  said  Pamela  Zdunek,  an  OnRamp fellow  at  Sidley  who  just  returned  to  full-­time  legal  work  after  a  21-­year  hiatus  to  raise children.  “The  administrative  assistants  still  used  typewriters.”

Zdunek  spoke  of  the  way  the  Internet  age  has  changed  the  course  of  doing  business,  such as  the  relatively  recent  ability  for  people  to  work  from  home  and  the  way  client relationships  have  changed.  During  her  fellowship,  she’s  had  many  opportunities  for  client interaction,  but  face-­to-­face  contact  is  rarer  now.

Fishman  Cohen  recommended  that  women  returning  to  the  workplace  set  up  a  LinkedIn profile.  Absence  from  social  media  can  be  a  red  flag  to  potential  employers,  she  said.

At  one  point  Zdunek  was  asked  about  taking  direction  from  associates  younger  than  her, and  she  said  it  wasn’t  a  problem.  “My  kids  are  always  telling  me  me  what  to  do,”  she  said to  laughter .

The  panel  was  sponsored  by  the  Coalition  of  Women’s  Initiatives  in  Law  in  partnership  with Locke  Lord,  the  National  Association  of  Women’s  Lawyers  and  the  Women’s  Bar  Association of  Illinois.

-­-­Editing  by  Brian  Baresch.

Full Story: http://www.law360.com/ip/articles/616905?nl_pk=ee0180b3-3a82-4cd3-a212-2ef3ca6ab810&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ip

The National Jurist, “Fellowship Helps Women with Leadership Aspirations”

Fellowship helps women with leadership aspirations

Caren Ulrich Stacy saw a gap in the legal market that needed to be filled. Despite a 50/50 gender split among entry-level associates, the number of female partners remained dismal.

“We have a bunch of women who want to come back to work and we have a huge gap in terms of gender in the upper ranks,” Stacy said. “Women have a problem. Law firms have problem. Why can’t we meet in the middle?”

Hence OnRamp Fellowship — a one-year program, established by Stacy in early 2013, to help women with leadership aspirations reenter the legal workforce after taking a hiatus to raise children or attend to other obligations.

Stacy saw a number of women with vast legal backgrounds get turned away from interviews without explanations.

“If you practiced for five years but have been out for 10, firms don’t know where to place you,” she said. “They think it’s too risky. They don’t even make it past the interview phase. ”

Where firms see risk, Stacy sees untapped talent. To eliminate risk, OnRamp conducts rigorous three-hour interviews and tests focusing on candidates’ skills, personality and legal writing. Once screened, OnRamp recommends chosen fellows for an interview with a firm they see fit, giving the firm final hiring-power.

Dora de la Rosa was a litigator for 13 years before leaving to spend more time with her young children. But her time off was still time on. She chaired a school bond campaign, which raised over $67 million and served on the local school board for eight years. Now she is an OnRamp fellow in the Los Angeles office of Sidley Austin LLP.

“A lot of women are comfortable with their decision to leave but in hindsight they didn’t realize how hard it would be to come back,” Stacy said.  “I’m trying to help firms see potential.

OnRamp Fellowship began with four geographically dispersed firms: Baker Botts LLP, Cooley LLP, Hogan Lovells LLP and Sidley Austin LLP. After an influx of requests, Stacy added 11 more firms, capping the program at 15 firms, for now.

Once placed, OnRamp provides fellows with career-development support including one-on-one coaching, unlimited access to online continuing legal education (CLE) and monthly webinars.

To ease the transition back to practice, the program replaces the rigid billable rate structure with a stipend.

“One of the difficulties in practice is there is such a high expectation on billable hours, that there’s been a decline in training and mentoring,” Stacy said. “Part of the infrastructure of the fellowship is to go back to what it look like 20 years ago. By lessening the pressure of the billable hour, it gives fellows to the opportunity to do the work they need to leverage themselves in the future.”

Fellows receive a stipend of $125,000 for their year, which is on par with the national median salary for entry-level associates, as reported by the National Association of Law Placement.

“It is lower than a lateral would be paid,” Stacy said. “But even though she is working full-time, she’s not expected to bill at the traditional rate.”

What happens after the year ends?

“It’s in the firms’ and fellows’ hands,” Stacy said. “The hope is that there is a need at the firm and she has demonstrated her value. At a minimum, she will at least leave with updated training.”

The program is still in the pilot stages, with nine fellows currently in the midst of their fellowship. Though demand is high, Stacy wants to postpone expansion and focus on working out the kinks of the new program.

“My super secret hope is that I’ll run this program and firms will see such value that they won’t need the program,” Stacy said. “I want to show firms that this can be done and they can do it well. If women gain confidence about reentering and firms gain confidence about women having a lot of value, they can run a program themselves.”

The National Law Journal, “Women Find a Way Back into Big Law Careers”

One-third of OnRamp Fellowship participants belong to minority groups.

DORA DE LA ROSA: “I really didn’t see a pathway back into Big Law,” the fellow said. “But this program has just been fabulous. It’s great to be able to commit to the work without feeling guilty.”

Dora de la Rosa was on the path to a career in the upper reaches of the legal profession. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she was the first in her family to go to college and upon graduation from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law in 1986 quickly found a job in the Los Angeles office of a large national law firm.

Two years later, she gave birth to her first child. Given the demands of her ­profession, “I quickly realized that it was going to be difficult to parent the way I wanted to,” she said. De la Rosa would spend the next 12 years balancing family life with jobs at smaller firms or part-time before leaving the law in 2000 to focus on her two children and community activism.

Flash forward 14 years — de la Rosa’s children are in college and she has reclaimed her legal career as an associate in Sidley Austin’s real estate transactions practice. She is one of nine women re-entering the legal workforce through the OnRamp Fellowship, which places women who have been out of the profession for at least three years into one-year positions paying $125,000 at large firms.

The program represents a small step toward changing the perception that major law firms are not places where women or minorities thrive, founder Caren Ulrich Stacy said. Women made up nearly 45 percent of law firm associates in 2013, according to the National Association for Law Placement, but slightly more than 20 percent of partners.

The attrition rate for minority women was even higher — they comprised 11 percent of associates in 2013 but 2 percent of partners. Family demands are a leading reason why women leave large firms, while minorities often report feeling socially isolated and lacking mentors.

The OnRamp Fellowship, launched earlier this year, enables women lawyers to update their skills and professional networks and prepares them for leadership roles within the profession. It is loosely based on reentry programs in the corporate and financial worlds.

“I really didn’t see a pathway back into Big Law,” de la Rosa said. “But this program has just been fabulous. It’s great to be able to commit to the work without feeling guilty.”

Four law firms hosted the first nine fellows: Baker Botts; Cooley; Hogan Lovells; and Sidley. But interest has been so high — more than 30 large firms expressed interest — that Stacy announced on Sept. 22 that 11 additional large firms would offer fellowships, for a total of 75 positions around the country. Those firms are Akerman; Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berko­witz; Blank Rome; Crowell & Moring; Fenwick & West; Fish & Richardson; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; Jenner & Block; K&L Gates; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; and White & Case.

HIGH DEMAND

“I had a little trepidation initially, wondering, ‘Are women going to want to come back?’ To my surprise and delight, 170 applied for the first nine spots,” Stacy said. “Many of these women are still ­balancing work and home, just as they were five or 10 years ago when they left, but this gives them the chance to see if they can balance things better.”

One-third of the fellowship applicants thus far have been racially diverse attorneys, Stacy said. The same proportion won fellowships.

There was a single African-American partner at the large New York firm where Dana Glenn worked as an associate in 2000 after graduating from Fordham University School of Law. She quit after two years to be closer to family in Michi­gan and ultimately left the profession for 10 years. She decided to reenter the practice in 2010 and landed at Hogan Lovells on an OnRamp fellowship.

“I didn’t really think it would be that hard to get back into it, but it was quite difficult,” she said. “You are behind in the law and you are competing with people right out of law school, which is a big challenge. Then you have to deal with people who don’t believe that you’re serious about coming back.”

Her recent experience has been positive thus far, in part because of the support the OnRamp program offers fellows in the form of mentors, webinars and support from other fellows, Glenn said. She found the firm and the profession had grown more serious about diversity in her absence.

“They thought the biggest challenges would be getting updated on the law, but it’s the technology or firm systems that are more challenging than they expected,” Stacy said. “You no longer go to a file room. You go into a document management system.”

Bloomberg Businessweek, “Firms Hiring Women Returning to Practice: Business of Law”

Caren Ulrich Stacy worked in recruiting, professional development and “everything relating to the life cycle of an attorney” as she describes her decades-long career in law firms that included Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and Arnold & Porter LLP.

Last year, while working for a consulting firm that researched law firm metrics, she saw a gap. Law firms, after years of retrenchment, needed to hire, and some women, after years of staying home, wanted a way to return to work.

She came up with the idea for the OnRamp Fellowship.

“The first thing I did was to call every consultant I thought was good and asked if they would help these women if I could find firms to hire them.” she said. “They all said yes, and agreed to donate their time.”

She then asked four firms — Baker Botts LLP, Cooley LLP, Hogan Lovells LLP and Sidley Austin LLP — to take part in the experiment and they all agreed.

The program, launched in January, has so far placed nine women returning to practice in one-year fellowships. One hadn’t practiced law for 21 years.

This week, 11 additional firms joined the program. Those firms — Akerman LLP, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC; Blank Rome LLP; Crowell & Moring LLP; Fenwick & West LLP; Fish & Richardson PC; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP; Jenner & Block LLP; K&L Gates LLP; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP; and White & Case LLP — along with the original four — are now posting more than 75 jobs on the program’s website, Stacy said in a telephone interview.

Securing a job is rigorous. Applicants must go through a three-hour screening, which includes a personality and skills assessment, writing test, culture questionnaire and behavioral interview.

Law firms also are vetted, in a sense. Firms “must agree to do a cultural analysis so we can make sure the candidate will be a good fit. And, we do a ‘bright spot’ analysis as well where we interview the firm’s best lawyers to understand what they do to make them successful,” Stacy said.

The women are interviewed by lawyers at the firm and those who are selected as fellows are provided with a partner who acts as an adviser, an external career counselor, unlimited online continuing legal education through the Practicing Law Institute, and a variety of training from experts in areas like negotiations and technology, she said.

The firms and the lawyers have been flexible in figuring out their roles and their salaries. While they might be considered mid-level associates, Stacy explained, “the pay is less because the billable-hour requirement is less, as is the billable rate.”

Two law schools have programs for lawyers with gaps who want to return to practice. Pace School of Law in New York runs “New Directions for Attorneys,” a part-time, five-month program that combines classes with internships. Washington College of Law of American University has a “lawyer re-entry program” as well.

The nine original OnRamp fellows are all working full time. Stacy says she’s pleased with the program, while acknowledging the hiccups along the way. Technology is often the biggest hurdle, she said, but because the women are smart, they have adapted.

One of the women, in her first week at work, was stymied when a partner asked to “PDF something.” The woman, she said, “didn’t know if PDF was a noun or a verb. Fortunately she Googled it and figured it out pretty quickly.”

The Recorder, “OnRamp Program Adds More Destinations”

SAN FRANCISCO — After four years in Big Law, Lori Trujillo took a career hiatus to raise her two children. When she tried to return to work three years later, she found her stint away from the law made the job search difficult.

“Compared to somebody else who has the same qualifications but no gap in her resume, it can be harder to get interviewed,” said Trujillo. In May, she started a paid one-year fellowship—or returnship—in Sidley Austin’s Los Angeles corporate and intellectual property practice, one of the first lawyers placed by The OnRamp Fellowship program. The program is designed to help women who are reentering the profession after taking time off.

On Monday, OnRamp said it had signed up 11 more law firms for its program, creating more than 50 new fellowships across the country. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Fenwick & West are among the new participants. OnRamp founder Caren Ulrich Stacy said the program’s initial draw was overwhelming. OnRamp received more than 170 applications for nine fellowships at participating firms Cooley, Baker Botts, Hogan Lovells and Sidley.

Stacy, a legal professional development consultant, said participants’ reasons for leaving the law range from having to care for a child or ailing relative to pursuing a new career or degree. Whatever their reasons for leaving, Big Law’s traditional track system can make reentry difficult.

Because Big Law recruiting is typically aimed at law school graduates and lateral hires, attorneys returning from a career hiatus may feel they are not invited to apply for open positions, explained Don Keller, a partner in Orrick’s Silicon Valley office.

New openings in California are in Baker Botts’ Palo Alto office, Fenwick’s Silicon Valley office, Sidley’s San Francisco office, Orrick’s offices in San Francisco and Silicon Valley and Cooley’s offices in San Diego, Palo Alto and San Francisco. Both new applicants and women who applied in the initial draw will be considered, Stacy said.

Other firms that joined the program on Monday include Akerman; Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz; Blank Rome; Crowell & Moring; Fish & Richardson; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; Jenner & Block; K&L Gates; and White & Case.

Contact the reporter at phaggin@alm.com.

Law360, “BigLaw ‘Returnship’ Program for Women Attys Expands”

Law360, New York (September 22, 2014, 12:02 PM ET) — BigLaw’s first fellowship program to bring women who took breaks from legal careers back to law firm jobs is set for a major expansion, the program founder announced Monday.

After launching in the spring with women fellows placed at four firms, the OnRamp Fellowship says 11 additional firms have committed to filling more than 50 positions in Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Nashville and several other cities.

Applying lawyers are required to have three years of professional experience and have been on hiatus for at least two years. Each firm pays their fellows’ stipend — $125,000 with benefits in most markets, or $85,000 in some smaller markets — on a one-year contract.

“By participating in the first ‘returnship’ ever launched in the legal field, these 15 law firms are trailblazers,” Stacy said in a statement. “They are benefiting the profession as well as their own firms by forging a new pathway back for women lawyers who took a break and want to return.”

The four original firms — Baker Botts LLPCooley LLPHogan Lovells, and Sidley Austin LLP — already placed nine OnRamp fellows this year, and will continue to participate in the expanded pilot program.

The new additions are Akerman LLPBaker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz PC,Blank Rome LLPCrowell & Moring LLPFenwick & West LLPFish & Richardson PC,Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLPJenner & Block LLPK&L Gates LLPOrrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and White & Case LLP.

“As a firm that is committed to the progression of women at all levels, Cooley is excited to see the momentum being generated by the OnRamp Fellowship,” said Cooley CEO Joe Conroy. “We are proud to have been one of the pioneering firms to support the fellowship, and we wish it every success as the program expands into its second phase.”

The program was modeled after “returnships” offered at companies like Goldman Sachs & Co. and is intended to provide re-entry to women who took time off for family or other obligations, and to seek out applicants with firm leadership potential.

Fellowship administrators conduct an “organizational culture analysis” and study high-performers at participating firms as part of the matching process.

Applicants also complete a personality and skills assessment and a writing exam, among other tests. Once placed, fellows are provided a partner adviser, a career counselor and unlimited continuing legal education, as well as training in areas like social media.

The original fellow practice areas have expanded from corporate, litigation, trademark, finance and real estate to include emerging companies, U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory, employment, securities and tax.

 

Above the Law, “Getting Back Into the Law”

The statistics don’t lie. There is approximately a 50/50 split between men and women who graduate from law school and obtain entry level associate positions at firms. However, many more women end up leaving after a few years and either never return to the firm environment or return to practicing law at all. We can point to a myriad of reasons, both personal to each woman and systemic of the general firm structure, but the bottom line is that women lawyers are a group that could use assistance in getting back into law.

Enter the OnRamp Fellowship. Founded by Caren Ulrich Stacey, the Fellowship is a re-entry platform that allows experienced, talented lawyers to return to the work force through a one year, paid training contract. This platform allows lawyers to renew and increase their legal skills, while getting a resume boost that will help transition them to the next position at the same or different law firm. The Fellowship also provides lawyers with the opportunity to make valuable networking contacts and obtain professional references.

In turn, law firms benefit from tapping into an overlooked pool of highly skilled and experienced lawyers who are eager to demonstrate that they still got it. Not to mention, participating law firms get to have bragging rights to encouraging diversity and doing good for women lawyers everywhere. The legal profession, as a whole, is also replenished by the infusion of “new” talent and improved gender equality among the numbers of mid-to-senior level associates.

So which law firms currently have bragging rights to participating in the 2014 pilot program? Cooley, Baker Botts, Sidley Austin, and Hogan Lovells. And who are the accomplished women lawyers chosen as the2014-15 Fellows?

• Sheila Bridges (Cooley, San Francisco)
• Dora de la Rosa (Sidley Austin, Los Angeles)
• Dana Glenn (Hogan Lovells, Washington, D.C.)
• Heather Hewitt (Baker Botts, Houston)
• Mary Klumpp (Cooley, Washington, D.C.)
• Yvette Lanneaux (Baker Botts, New York)
• Mimi Ophir (Sidley Austin, New York)
• Lori Trujillo (Sidley Austin, Los Angeles)
• Pamela Zdunek (Sidley Austin, Chicago)

Although the OnRamp Fellowship is a great solution to the re-entry challenges faced by women lawyers, the downside to the success of this platform is that it is extremely popular and thus extremely competitive. Notwithstanding the high number of applicants, OnRamp also utilizes a rigorous process for both law firms and applicants. Law firms undergo an assessment of the organizational culture. High performing women lawyers at the firm are interviewed to gather information and analyze their abilities to achieve within that particular environment. As for the applicants, they are required to complete battery of online skills, personality, and values assessments, take a writing assessment, write a personal essay, and participate in a behavioral interview. Upon completion, a “Screening Scorecard” for each applicant, containing assessments details and other application materials, are sent to the law firms who can then choose who to personally interview.

Needless to say, the OnRamp Fellowship is slated to be a coveted and prestigious achievement that will indicate to subsequent employers that the recipient is the best of the best.If you missed applying the first time around, OnRamp will be launching a second pilot program this fall due to overwhelming interest. New positions with more than 10 law firms will be posted in mid September 2014. So remember to check back for phase 2 of the OnRamp Fellowship and good luck!

Sunny Choi is the 2013 Writers in Residence Coordinator for Ms. JD. She is a former participant in the Writers in Residence program, where her monthly column Legally Thrifty focused on beginners personal finance advice for law students and professionals. A graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, she currently practices commercial litigation and creditors’ rights while freelance writing and blogging in her spare time. She can be reached at contentdirector@ms-jd.org.

Ms. J.D., “Fellowship for Women Lawyers Re-Entering Practice is a Big Success”

OnRamp Fellowship for Women Lawyers Re-Entering Practice Is a Big Success

Finally.  Yes, finally we are seeing some progress addressing the very low retention rates for women lawyers — even if it is in the form of mitigation.  Getting back into law practice after being absent for any significant amount of time is tough going, and there has not been a lot of progress on that issue in the past.  Years ago, maybe 2008, I was a panelist in a program at Washington School of Law at American University on the subject of re-entry.  The personal stories from program participants were chilling for anyone hoping to make that happen.  Other law schools have experimented with similar programs, which are credible attempts to address a critical issue for women lawyers, but, to my knowledge, those programs have not produced great results in terms of re-entry.  Almost every conference I attend on women in law also addresses the issue, but, until now, it has just been a restatement of the same old problem.

Now comes something different and long overdue.  In a former blog I introduced you to the OnRamp Fellowship, a program supported by four law firms — Baker Botts, Sidley, Cooley and Hogan Lovells — to help women lawyers, who have left practice, re-enter the profession.  This is the first program of its kind EVER in the legal profession.  As an innovative concept, this is BIG, and the only thing that I can find wrong with it is that I did not think of it myself!

Launched in January 2014, this new program gives the participating lawyers an opportunity to update their skills and their legal contacts through one-year paid positions with top law firms.  The program is completely responsive to the low retention rates for women lawyers and the talent drain that Best Friends at the Bar addresses, and I am happy to report that nine women lawyers have been selected by the sponsoring law firms from a pool of 170 applicants as part of the 2014-2015 OnRamp Fellowship.

The quality of the applicants was so impressive that the participating firms ended up choosing two or three participants each for the program, even though the firms had initially expected to choose only one each.  This, of course, is not surprising!  Women lawyers are very dedicated and talented, and they are more than worthy of the investment.

And, in recognition of the value of the OnRamp Fellowship program, several of the firms have indicated an interest in offering additional fellowships for the Fall of 2014. Consistent with that interest and enthusiasm, a second phase of the OnRamp Fellowship is in the planning phase, and details are expected to be announced within the next few months.  Stay tuned to Best Friends at the Bar for more information.

“It is gratifying to see these lawyers, who excelled in their careers before taking a break from practice, return to the legal profession in a way that acknowledges their talent and experience while providing an environment in which they can re-establish their practices, explore new areas, and expand their professional networks,” says Caren Ulrich Stacy, Founder of the OnRamp Fellowship.

Hear, hear.  I am so pleased to see this program get off the ground in grand style, and I applaud all of the participants.  According to their profiles, the chosen women had spent the “off ramp” years, which ranged in length from three to twenty years, continuing to develop their leadership and development skills in non-profits, political endeavors and gaining advanced degrees.  This kind of involvement during hiatus is something that Best Friends at the Bar always has emphasized and recommended.  Sometimes the only choice is to leave, but how you leave and how you fill the years while you are gone very often determine success for re-entry.

The OnRamp Fellowship is an excellent example of women lawyers and law firms working together for solutions.  The way I see it, Best Friends at the Bar and the OnRamp Fellowship is a perfect fit.

Hold that thought!

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and a nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women’s issues and the law profession.
Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she taught legal research and writing. She also is a Marshall Goldsmith trained career and leadership coach and a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches.  She also is a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com