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Corporate Counsel, “Amazon’s GC on ‘No Lose’ Talent Program in Legal Department

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Law360, “Returnship Program for Women Heads In-House”

Returnship Program for Female Attys Heads In-House

Law360, New York (September 23, 2015, 10:42 PM ET) — A “returnship” fellowship program that helps female attorneys return to high-level legal positions after taking time off from BigLaw is continuing to grow, making its first forays into corporate law departments.

The OnRamp Fellowship program, launched with the backing of just four firms last year, has added six additional participants — bringing the total number of firm backers to 25 — and is set to see its first in-house fellows at Inc. and Barclays, program founder Caren Ulrich Stacy told Law360 this week.

The latest BigLaw additions to the program are Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLPMorrison & Foerster LLPLoeb & Loeb LLPStoel Rives LLP,Wiley Rein LLP and Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dickler LLP, adding to 19 previously participating firms.

“These firms are taking action and doing something that will actually move the needle for women in the industry’s mid- to senior-level ranks,” Stacy said. “At this point I think firms are seeing this as a proven concept and a way to get to an untapped group of talent.”

Amazon has posted potential fellowship spots in digital, Web services and intellectual property, and Barclays has three OnRamp fellowship opportunities in a New York compliance group.

David Zapolsky, senior vice president and general counsel for Amazon, praised the program in a statement.

“Consistent with our commitment to hire and develop the best, we try to access as many different sources of great talent as possible,” he said. “We’re excited to partner with the OnRamp Fellowship because it will give us the chance to work with a traditionally underutilized and undervalued pool of outstanding and diverse lawyers.”

With some first-wave OnRamp lawyers already having moved into full-time roles, Stacy estimated that 50 female attorneys transitioning back to practice, many after extended breaks to support families, would be in position for permanent jobs after completing the fellowship next year.

The four initial OnRamp backers — Baker Botts LLPCooley LLPHogan Lovells and Sidley Austin LLP — are continuing to participate. Sidley has made four of its seven fellows permanent; the three others have not yet completed the program, she said. Cooley has also seen a San Francisco fellow move onto a permanent role in a trusts and estate practice at another firm.

Modeled on other returnship programs offered at companies like Goldman Sachs Group Inc., OnRamp fellowships provide a $125,000 stipend with benefits for a one-year contract.

Previous OnRamp expansions have brought in Akerman LLPBaker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz PCBlank Rome LLPCovington & Burling LLPCrowell & Moring LLPFenwick & West LLPFish & Richardson PCFried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLPFox Rothschild LLPGoodwin Procter LLPJenner & Block LLPK&L Gates LLPOrrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLPPillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP and White & Case LLP.

All together, the participating firms and law departments have posted about 150 jobs in 33 cities in a range of practice areas, including litigation, tax, antitrust, compliance, corporate, emerging companies, finance, employment, real estate, and mergers and acquisitions.

–Editing by Mark Lebetkin.


The American Lawyer, “Securing the Pipeline”

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The Recorder, “After a Break, Women Find Path Back to Law”

Law360, “Women Attorneys Reveal How to Rebound From a BigLaw Break”

Fast Company, “The Case for Creating a Re-Entrance Program for New Mothers”

Boston Business Journal, “Here’s How 3 Boston Law Firms Are Looking To Bring Back Women Who Left Law”

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”

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


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.

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