A shift in focus from the “opt-out” to the “opt-in”

Both Lawjobs.com (via law.com) and NYLawyer.com have recently reported new programs at Hastings and Pace University which are designed to bridge the gap and ease re-entry into the legal market for professionals who have taken a year or more off of work. Not surprisingly, most of the individuals enrolling in such programs are women who have taken time off to have/raise kids. Considering women remain the primary caregivers when it comes to the children in most families, and in the grand scheme of things - this whole "break" of sorts is a fairly new concept as our society slowly evolves from the stereotypical 1950's nuclear family in which mom never worked and dad worked continuously in one career until retirement - I am not surprised that there aren't more programs like those at Pace and Hastings... yet. I encourage you all to read both of the articles on the program. This is because the NYLawyer piece was posted a few days ago, and upon first reading - I attempted to write something for this blog - but I found myself feeling a bit negative and ended up scrapping the whole thing. I was not feeling negative about the programs - quite the contrary, in fact - but I was saddened by the reminder (oddly present in the first article and slightly absent in the second) that many women who want to return to practice after time off (and want a more balanced schedule) are limited in their choice of practice areas in many cases. Some may disagree, I for one attribute this to the culture of the profession. That aside, the second article left me feeling much more hopeful. It notes the benefits of such programs and the enthusiasm generated by the participants. The second article seems to focus on Hastings, which has already put their seminar into practice - while the first article centered on the soon-to-launch course at Pace - perhaps this accounts for the difference in the articles? (one article had a pool of satisfied participants, while the other, naturally, can only attest to their goals and enthusiasm for the future program). Regardless of the distinctions between the two programs - there are clear benefits to creating these kinds of resources in any form - not only the practical benefits, but (as mentioned in the second article) the "push" that such a program can give (to those who want to return to their career - but knowing the huge obstacles they will face, are hesitant to embark on the pursuit) may be invaluable. The lawjobs.com article cites the staggering statistic that 93% of the highly trained professional women who take time off want to return to their career - but in the end, only 40% actually end up doing so full-time. (I believe that the statistics cited are from a larger study not narrowed to the legal profession alone). Re-entry into the workforce after time off for any reason is bound to be difficult - taking steps to create opportunities that ease the return is crucial on a large scale. Maybe someday it will not be so tough for women to take a break in their career in order to focus on family. maybe someday more men will do the same. And hopefully sooner rather than later, employers will take notice and tap into this pool of talented legal minds.

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