What do you do if you’re trying to return to the ever-changing workforce of the law, after being out of the workforce for 3-20+ years? How can you navigate changes in technology and regulations, whilst delivering the value of your own knowledge and experience? We spoke to Andrea Bell from Herbert Smith Freehills to learn about how the OnRamp fellowship program supports women to do just that, accelerating the re-entry of female lawyers into the firm.

In June 2016, law firm Herbert Smith Freehills signed up to become the first international firm to launch the OnRamp fellowship in both the UK and Australia. Deloitte interviewed Herbert Smith Freehills’ HR Director, Australia, Andrea Bell and Jennifer Winslow OnRamp’s Managing Director, to learn more about the initiative.

Launched in 2014 by Caren Ulrich Stacy, a legal industry talent expert, OnRamp seeks to identify talented, experienced female lawyers looking to return to practice following extended career breaks. OnRamp matches these potential legal candidates with law firm and legal department vacancies. OnRamp offers a 12-month re-training program for these lawyers to smooth re-entry back into the workforce. Fellows receive tailored coaching and refresher training to upskill and transition back into the law. The firm has the option of offering permanent employment at the conclusion of the fellowship, if there is a suitable vacancy. To date, OnRamp has successfully placed 45 lawyers across 19 firms, legal departments, and other organisations internationally. To date, 86% of the Fellows who have completed the program have landed in long-term roles with organisations.

The decision to work with OnRamp is part of Herbert Smith Freehills’ long-standing commitment to maintain a diverse and inclusive culture; and drive their strategy of creating gender equity at the top levels of leadership in the firm. “We know that different perspectives greatly enhance our creativity, problem solving skills and ability to innovate. All of which results in a more rewarding workplace for our people and better service for our clients. OnRamp is a part of this and has provided another avenue through which to access the untapped pool of female talent for roles within the firm,” says Andrea Bell.

“For us, it was also vital to start a conversation internally, with our own people. We wanted to understand early on how we could maximise the benefits of the fellowship within their teams. We wanted to ensure we fully understood and appreciated the time it may take fellowship lawyers to ‘get up to speed’ with the changes to both the law and technology since they were last in practice,” advises Andrea.

“Candidates may not always neatly fit a vacancy with the exact relevant experience as some candidates have been away from practice from anywhere between 3 to 20+ years. OnRamp allows them to ‘trial’ us as well. What OnRamp candidates bring to the opportunity is passion, an eagerness to learn, maturity, and skills – such as initiative, judgment and ownership. This sets them apart from lateral candidates who have not taken a hiatus.”

Jennifer Winslow from OnRamp states that Herbert Smith Freehills’ thoughtfulness in its approach to the program has played a large role in their successful relationship. Jennifer goes on to say that, “apart from its long-standing commitment to a culture that values diversity and inclusion, we were impressed by Herbert Smith Freehills’ willingness to ‘buy into’ the OnRamp program. From the beginning of our interactions, the firm has worked incredibly hard to ensure the success of the program and, more importantly, the success of the lawyers who are hired via the program.”

The firm has begun the process of identifying returning women who might want to join their firm through the OnRamp program in hopes of bringing on a Fellow in the next few months. They are looking for people who are intelligent, personable and keen to work collaboratively as part of a team. Andrea says, “We look for people that will be a good fit for the firm and for our clients. There is no one type of person to be successful here – our people come from a wide range of backgrounds, and we believe that the different perspectives and experiences they bring to the firm is what underpins our success.”

When asked to define what ‘success’ would look like for Herbert Smith Freehills OnRamp Fellowship program, Andrea responded, “Although it’s early days for our journey with OnRamp, the real success will be when we start to see a cohort of Fellows build over time, via the OnRamp program.”

Further information

For more information please contact Kimberley Van Raay.

For details about the OnRamp fellowship please visit their website.