By Gabriella Martin • January 21, 2017•Careers, Other Career Issues
As any law student or first year associate will tell you--breaking into the legal field is incredibly difficult. But what about those who took time off and are trying to come back into practice? Although the transition back is difficult and littered with numerous obstacles, one program is easing the burden while also working to combat the lack of female leadership in law firms nationwide. That program is the OnRamp Fellowship. OnRamp partners with firms, such as Stoel Rives LLP, and corporations to provide a “returnship” pathway for women who have been out of the practice of law for more than three years.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with two of Stoel Rives’ newest OnRamp Fellows, Sallie Lin and Alyssa Petroff, to learn what were some of the challenges they faced in returning to practice and how the OnRamp Fellowship has not only made the transition easier, but successful as well.
On Returning to Practice
Sallie highlighted the stigma that many lawyers face upon returning to the practice of law after working in another field, with some employers not realizing the unique perspective that returning lawyers bring to the table. “I discovered that finding work as a lawyer again was incredibly difficult. I interviewed with many law firms and almost no one could believe that I wanted to return to the practice of law,” she said. "Trying to convince law firms (or lawyers in general) to choose someone with a non-linear path was difficult. The legal profession is very conservative—and trying to change that mindset seems impossible." Sallie credits her time away from the practice as providing her with a useful perspective of “doing something other than practicing law.” She went on to say that she thinks “taking a break from the practice of law should be considered a positive attribute, not a negative one.”
Another challenge for both women was returning to practice in a new field or environment. For Alyssa, previously a litigator, returning to practice in corporate law--with its own customs and practices--provided challenges, but also a new found calling and interest. For Sallie, big law was a different environment from the public interest work she was used to, but she says she has “been pleasantly surprised at how Stoel has challenged my assumptions about ‘big law.’”
In addition to the fellowship program, Alyssa and Sallie credit Stoel Rives and its culture with making the transition easier. This comes as no surprise from a firm which, in addition to the OnRamp Fellowship, has several other fellowship programs for both law students and lawyers to help increase diversity in their firm. Stoel Rives is also currently exploring the development of different staffing models and other unique career opportunities for both lawyers and non-lawyers in their talent management model.
On What Makes OnRamp Unique
“OnRamp did a great job of building my confidence in advance of my interviews with Stoel Rives, which helped me tremendously in being relaxed in those interviews and ultimately getting a fellowship offer,” Alyssa said. OnRamp provides the fellows with tools and resources, such as career coaches, both before and after securing a position, as well as a community where challenges can be discussed.
Sallie and Alyssa said that there is a great deal of comfort to be found in knowing that you are “not alone in the thoughts, worries, and emotions that [you] have going through this transition.” This comfort can be found in the monthly cohort call, organized by OnRamp, where a small group of fellows talk through the challenges that they are facing during their transition back into the practice of law. The fellows also offer each other advice and encouragement during these monthly calls, fostering a sense of community.
Although the application and screening process to become an OnRamp Fellow is quite intense, the experiences of both women is a tribute to the quality of the program. Sallie appreciated the fact that her time off was not a factor to OnRamp or Stoel Rives during the decision-making process.
For more information on how to become an OnRamp Fellow, please click here.
**Thank you to Sallie Lin and Alyssa Petroff for taking the time to answer my questions, and also Caitlan McCafferty for her assistance in coordinating these interviews.**
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