You graduated from law school. Then, you practiced for a few years or pursued a career outside of the law. After you had your first child, you decided to scale back to part time. After the second one, you decided to take a few years off while the kids were small. You planned to go back to work when they started school. That was ten years ago.
If this profile describes you, you are not alone. Many lawyers take time off to raise a family or pursue another profession — perhaps a field they worked in before attending law school – with the intent to return to practice, only to find that the job market has changed significantly while they were away from the law. Not sure if their skills and contacts are relevant in today’s market, they have a hard time returning to the law.
Pace University School of Law recognized the need for a program that helps lawyers return to the law after some time away from practice. Administrators there conceived of the unique and innovative New Directions program to help lawyers returning to practice improve their skills and gain practice experience before going back on the job market. This program was recently profiled in a New York Times article called “Mom? Lawyer? The Ambivalence Track.”
The Glass Hammer interviewed Amy Gewirtz, Associate Director of Alumni Counseling and Relations in the Center for Career Development at Pace Law School, and Associate Director of the New Directions Program, to find out more about this exciting opportunity for returning professionals
The New Directions program, which graduated its first class in December 2007, was created by Ms. Gewirtz, along with Deb Volberg Pagnotta, Director of the program, and Mark Shulman, Assistant Dean for Graduate Programs and International Affiliations at Pace Law School. It was developed in collaboration with the Westchester Women’s Bar Association, which played an important role in helping with extern placement and networking with association members. In addition, Maja Hazell, former assistant Dean for Career Development, was fully supportive of the idea. Without her support, the program would not have gotten off the ground.
Ms. Gewirtz explained that the idea for the program emerged after she noted that she was seeing an increasing number of alumnae who were seeking to reenter the workforce after taking some time off. Then, a much-discussed New York Times article highlighted MBA return to work programs at The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and Harvard Business School. Ms. Gewirtz and her colleagues did some investigating, and learned that, other than a program at Hastings Law School in California, there were no programs to help lawyers return to the profession.
The New Directions program at Pace was launched in May 2007 with an entering class of 13 attorneys – 12 women and one man. While the program welcomes male and female attorney participants (and indeed, one male attorney just graduated in the first class) this is a particularly great opportunity for women who are returning to the workforce.
The program, held at the Pace campus in White Plains, New York, consists of three parts over the course of two semesters. First, enrollees attend a one-week boot camp in the early summer, which consists of full-day intensive workshops on legal research and writing, among other skills. The program emphasizes new developments in legal research technology, and brings in Lexis and Westlaw representatives to help the returners get up to speed on the new software. The attorneys receive up to 2 years-worth of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit, which helps them meet professional requirements.
Participants also hear from guest speakers, who address the challenges of returning to the workplace and how to deal with work/life balance issues. For example, Deborah Epstein Henry, president and founder of Flextime Lawyers, was the keynote speaker during the boot camp for last year’s class. The intensive week also includes career workshops on résumé writing and interviewing skills.
Last year’s program focused its substantive presentations on matrimonial and family law. While not all of the participants were interested in practicing family law, the practical legal skills, including litigation skills, in this practice area are highly transferable to other areas. In order to expose the returners to lawyers practicing in other areas in which they might be interested in, participants attended brown bag lunches to network with practitioners and learn more about their fields.
After the boot camp, program participants attend a 10-week summer session of classes focusing on substantive material and practical skills. The classes meet twice a week—one morning for 4 hours and one late afternoon/early evening for four hours. In September, the participants transition into a 10-week externship. Ms. Gewirtz and Ms. Pagnotta work closely with participants to place them in externships in a practice area that matches up with their interests. For example, one participant with an interest in music law externed at Julliard and another worked at a small immigration firm. The externship helps the returning lawyers gain exposure to the practice area and skill set they will need, and also encourages them to make connections and develop valuable mentoring relationships.
The graduates finish the program in early December, and are awarded a certificate of completion. Many of last year’s graduates continued on at their externships, and some have already found positions as practicing attorneys. The career office works closely with the other participants to help them find employment after the program ends.
The program participants come from all walks of life. Some had been stay-at-home moms before enrolling, others had pursued additional degrees, including journalism, before returning to law. Some had worked at big law firms before and others had been solo practitioners. What all of the participants had in common before the program was an eagerness to return to practice, or an alternative legal career using their law degree, and a lack of confidence in their abilities to return to law that had kept them from pursuing opportunities on their own. At New Directions, they regained confidence in their legal skills and bonded with their fellow classmates, who had shared a similar experience.
In addition to participation in the New Directions program, Ms. Gewirtz offers this advice to women returning to the law: “Focus on networking, particularly informational interviewing. Identify someone who does what you think you want to do, talk to them about their job. The most important thing is to get your face out there. Network with law school alums, college friends or parents of your children’s friends, to start. Try to get back into the legal community by attending law school reunions and joining bar associations. Finally, take this opportunity to do some pro bono work. In doing so, you can gain current legal experience and help people in need.”
Has this grabbed your attention? If you are thinking about returning to the law, or know someone who is, let her know about this exciting opportunity. Pace Law School is accepting applications for the New Directions program right now and the next session begins in May 2008.
Tuition for the New Directions program is $10,000, but, an early-bird 40% discount is available for those who register before April 1, 2008. If you are interested in learning more, open houses will be held on January 23 and March 12. To learn more, log onto www.law.pace.edu/newdirections.html.