Susan Smith Blakely

Time to Celebrate the OnRamp Fellowship Again

I have written a lot about the issues of leaving practice and the challenges of returning at a later date, and I address that issue in almost every speech I give at law schools, law firms and law organizations.  We saw many women lawyers leave practice in the 1990's and early 2000's for personal reasons, and now many of those women would like to get back into practice.  However, it has proven to be a daunting task for them, and the number of women lawyers wishing to return to practice has increased, as reported in a New York Times article in the summer of 2013.

Last year, however, an enterprising entrepreneur and some leading law firms came to the rescue.   If you have not heard about the OnRamp Fellowship, check out this former BFAB Blog.   At the accomplished hand of founder Caren Ulrich Stacy and cooperating law firms, there is now a program to bring women lawyers back into the law firm folds.  The program is very competitive and includes a salary paid by the law firms for women lawyers to return to their former firms for a year to update their legal skills and compete for permanent positions.  It is more than a start, as evidenced by its success.

The program is now in its second year.  The four firms that seeded the program, Baker Botts, Cooley, Hogan Lovells  and Sidley Austin, have now been joined by eleven additional firms:  Ackerman, Baker Donelson, Blank Rome, Crowell & Moring, Fenwick & West, Fish & Richardson, Fried Frank, Jenner & Block, K & L Gates, Orrick, and White & Case.

The program draws on recruiting techniques that have proven effective for developing corporate executives for decades.  The OnRamp Fellowship administrators conduct thorough organizational and cultural analyses of high performers at law firms, to assure a good fit for program participants.  Applicants undergo lengthy screening, which includes personality and skills assessment, and the women lawyers, who are selected to participate in the program, are provided with mentors and advisors, inside and outside the law firms, to give them the support they need to be successful in the re-entry process.

Here is how Caren Ulrich Stacy explains the growth of the program:

"Due to the overwhelming interest in the Fellowship -- as demonstrated by the 15,000 hits to the website, the 170 women who applied initially, and the 30 law firms that inquired about participating -- we expanded the pilot program to include a select number of top firms.  By participating in the first "Returnship" ever launched in the legal field, [the] 15 [participating] law firms are trailblazers.  They are benefitting the profession as well as their own firms by forging a new pathway back for women lawyers who took a break and want to return."

The OnRamp Fellowship deserves congratulations from all of us.  Here is mine!

For more on the OnRamp Fellowship, check out the program website.

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 

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