January 13, 2014
OnRamp Fellowships
Posted by Christine Hurt

HT:  Tax Prof Blog.

Caren Ulrich Stacy, a legal development professional, has created "OnRamp" fellowships, or "returnships" aimed at creating a pipeline for women to re-enter the legal profession.  These fellowships seem to be targeted toward female attorneys who left (generally big) law firm life to focus on family or other opportunities and now would like to return.  As summer internships are (still, for the most part) the pipeline from law school to large law firms, these one-year fellowships are designed to be a pipeline for experienced past associates to rejoin the work force.  So far, four firms, including Baker Botts, a firm at which I enjoyed spending many billable hours, have signed up for the program.  Applications are due February 28, and the target start date is in April.

I think these fellowships could be fantastic, and at the very least, interesting.  The pay is $125,000, which is an awful lot of money, but less than a first-year associate at these firms, and less than a summer associate on a weekly basis.  So, a firm could get an experienced attorney who may need a little time to get back up to speed cheaper than a new attorney who might take a lot longer.  Then, at the end of a year, the firm could hire the fellow at some negotiated rate, or not.  Either way, the fellow would be in a better position to interview for a different job now that she is in the game.  Could this program be a threat to new law graduates?  Would a firm that normally hires 40 summer associates for (40-X) slots now hire fewer associates for fewer slots, filling the difference with OnRamp-ers?  Or, will the number of OnRamp applicants be so low that the difference won't be felt.  I hope we see information on the number of applicants, the number of fellows, and the conversion rates.  Depending on the strength of the resumes, law firms might be silly not to participate.

I also wonder how the fellowships play out over the span of a year in terms of lifestyle and culture.  Say Associate W works at a law firm for 5 years, then leaves to have a baby.  Now, 3 years later, Associate W is hired by one of these four firms as an OnRamp fellow in April.  By June, the summer associates arrive, who are making more than she does, even though she may be supervising them.  How many billable hours are expected of Associate W?  Is she sheltered, and recruited, like a summer associate, or fully operationalized, like a fifth-year associate?  After a few more months, will Associate W be wondering why she is working as much as other 5th years, but making substantially less, or will she just be happy for the opportunity to prove herself again?  A year is a long time to try out for a job, particularly when you are billing full blast.  But, I assume that fellows who treat it like a contract job and think "I'm not getting paid to work around the clock" will be treated like a contract worker at the end of the contract.

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