Susan Smith Blakely

Best Friends at the Bar: The OnRamp Fellowship and How It Works

So, you already know from my last blog that I am excited about the new OnRamp Fellowship.  You also know that sit, sit, sit and talk, talk, talk is not my style.  I like programs that move the marker forward and achieve positive results.  The OnRamp Fellowship has the potential for all of that and more.

Caren Ulrich Stacy, a recruitment, development, and diversity veteran with 20 years of experience consulting to law firms, is behind the OnRamp Fellowship.  She envisioned a program to match experienced women lawyers, who wished to return to the profession, with a one-year paid training contract, AND, so far, she has sold the concept to four major law firms.  Baker Botts, Cooley, Hogan Lovells, and Sidley Austin are "all in" for the inaugural pilot program.  Bravo to Caren and the participating law firms.  It is about time.

This is how it works.  The women lawyers are assured complex legal assignments and ongoing feedback and support for their work.  In exchange, the law firms gain access to highly-qualified talent while also increasing gender diversity, which we all know clients are demanding more and more these days.  In-house counsel want to see women lawyers on their teams, and the law firms know it.  More than that, the general counsel have the clout to get it in today's high competition for clients.

Carter Phillips, chair of Sidley's Executive Committee, summarized it like this:  "[T]his valuable program ... presents an excellent opportunity for talented women who left the practice of law to return to full-time practice on a partnership track.  We hope that the OnRamp Fellowship will create a viable, consistent pipeline of female lateral candidates, something that will benefit the legal profession as a whole, as well as our own firm."

In other words, the concept behind the OnRamp Fellowship is a win-win for the women attorneys, the firms and the legal profession.  This trifecta sounds a lot like the mission to raise retention rates for women lawyers that I have been writing about and speaking about for years.  And, as it turns out, when I contacted Caren Ulrich Stacy to congratulate her on this exciting inaugural program, I discovered that she has been a fan of Best Friends at the Bar for years.  You know I like to hear that, and I hope we can join forces at some point to improve the future for women lawyers.

Of course, as you would expect, the OnRamp Fellowship program is competitive.  The threshold requirements for the candidates is at least three years experience in practice and a hiatus of at least two years.  The participating law firms will choose from among qualified applicants, who are required to complete a rigorous screening and interview process, which includes personality, skills, values, and writing assessments.  The lucky winners will have unlimited access to online CLE, training in areas of negotiations, business development and leadership, and one-on-one coaching by legal-career counseling experts.  Selected fellows are expected to begin work at firms between late April 2014 and early May 2014.

For more on the On-Ramp Fellowship, read the On-Ramp Fellowship Press Release.

Hat's off to Caren Ulrich Stacy for the vision and to the participating law firms for the support and faith in the program.  They are singing the BFAB tune, and this is music to my ears!


This entry originally appeared on my web site blog at
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 JuristWashington Examiner NewspaperForbes 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 was a teaching fellow for legal research and writing.  For more information, please visit

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