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.”