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Moms on Hiatus From Law Work Get New Push to Rejoin Profession

Nov. 1, 2021, 9:08 PM

The Diversity Lab is ramping up an effort to get moms who take a break from their career back into the practice of law.

The group’s program aims to help 200 mothers on hiatus return to the profession by 2025. Called OnRamp Fellowship 200, the effort will place them at law firms or in-house legal departments for year-long paid fellowships that could end in full-time employment.

“These programs are such an expression of support for parents,” said Sidley Austin associate Sheri Porath Rockwell, who participated in an earlier version of the effort.

The OnRamp Fellowship was originally launched in 2014 but took a hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic and staffing issues. Diversity Lab, a non-profit group that promotes diversity in the legal profession, said the program is open to all genders.

Nearly forty major law firms and legal departments have joined OnRamp 200 as of Monday, including firms like Akerman, Sidley Austin, and Perkins Coie and in-house teams at companies like Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Inc.

Lawyers who take a break from their career to focus on family—or for any other reason—often have a difficult time returning to their professions due to law firms’ rigid associate structures. The OnRamp Fellowship aims to get people back into the field and help legal organizations access this untapped pool of talent in an especially hot hiring market.

While women make up roughly half of all associates, they make up just 21% of firm partners and 20% of firm managing partners, according to data from the National Association for Law Placement. In-house, women are estimated to comprise a quarter of general counsel roles in the Fortune 500, according to a statement from OnRamp.

Rockwell was a litigator for seven years before leaving her firm to start a family. After 17 years away from law firms, she participated in OnRamp’s 2016 cohort and was placed with Sidley Austin, where she now practices privacy and cybersecurity law and complex commercial litigation. She is also the a founder and chair of the California Lawyers Association’s Privacy Law Section.

“It really was a total life changing experience for me,” Rockwell said. “It seems like a waste of resources to just shut people out” and prevent them from leveraging their years of education and experience.

Lisa Kirby, Diversity Lab’s chief inclusion and equity officer, said the program is focused on addressing the lack of women in leadership roles in law firms and legal departments.

“A lot of women leave the profession before they reach leadership levels,” Kirby said. “We can act as a conduit to feed them back into the profession.”

Since the program first began in 2014, Diversity Lab has placed 95 fellows at firms and legal departments, of which nearly 90% received full-time offers after the fellowship concluded.

Applications for OnRamp’s next class of fellows closes on November 30, and the fellowships will begin on Feb. 1, 2022.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ruiqi Chen in Washington, D.C. at rchen@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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