By Susan Smith Blakely • June 04, 2014•Careers, Firms and the Private Sector
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