A new program the Massachusetts Bar Association is preparing to launch aims to help non-practicing attorneys stay connected with the legal industry and ease their transition back into practicing law.
New MBA President Warren F. Fitzgerald said that launching the program, tentatively referred to as Lawyers in Transition, is one of his goals for the year. He hopes that mothers and other attorneys on hiatus will use the program to keep in touch with colleagues and industry changes. He also wants to persuade non-practicing attorneys to return to practicing law, and if they decide to do so, help ease their transition back.
"We'd like to introduce a program that provides a lifeline to lawyers who are not practicing. The MBA is best suited to do that. We provide a link to lawyers with similar interests, and given the breadth of what we do at the MBA, I hope we'll be able to help lawyers who are not currently practicing."
While the details of the program are still being worked out, Fitzgerald envisions creating a new membership classification at a reduced rate.
In addition to offering news about initiatives and insight into industry issues, the new program would offer access to Continuing Legal Education programs for members seeking "refresher"-style courses, "so that when they re-enter the profession, they're up to speed," said Fitzgerald.
"Lawyers who are out of practice for a while face the challenge of keeping up with substantive changes in the law and keeping their skills sharp," Fitzgerald said. "We think the MBA can provide a link for them to the profession."
Ann Karpenski was an in-house defense counsel for Liberty Mutual when she left to start a family. She started working 10 hours a week for her husband, who owns a semiconductor testing company.
But now her son, William, is seven, and she's eager to take on more legal work, even if it's not full-time, since her schedule is still oriented toward her son.
"Now I'm looking forward to getting back into it. I think the program would be wonderful. I've lost my contacts. There's still a host of issues I have to address.
"I think the program would be really good for someone like me, and I know there are a lot of us out here. I wait in line for my child at school and I'm surprised at the number of mothers who are non-practicing attorneys, and that's just in Hopkinton."
Fitzgerald said he was "astounded" at how many women end up leaving the profession altogether after they've had children, and he hopes that providing an ongoing link to the MBA and the legal profession will persuade more to come back.
"I think it's important to all of us to enable all lawyers to actively continue with their practice if they wish. Some lawyers have great difficulty re-entering their profession. My hope is that a connection through the MBA will be helpful to those lawyers individually and to the profession as a whole."
Fitzgerald said he will appoint a committee to shape and implement the program, including deciding what to offer attorneys on hiatus, and at what rates.
"I certainly would like to see it in play before the end of the year," Fitzgerald said. "The primary service will be keeping them up with what we presently offer. However, an important part of it will also be offering educational programs and services tailored toward maintaining and refreshing the skills of lawyers not currently practicing.
"I hope it attracts new members, but this is primarily a service provided to the profession and our members," he said.
Karpenski has maintained her MBA membership even though she's only practicing on a limited basis. The possibility of an MBA-sponsored program for attorneys like her is appealing, she said.
"I can't necessarily go into trial law again, but I'm open to other options," she said.
Many lawyers who leave the profession to have children think they'll never return, she said."I think when your kids are little, you think you'll never go back," she said.
"I had said that. Now, it's not enough. I want to do something else."
Karpenski said she would be most interested in an MBA program that offered seminars or tutorials focused on returning to practice.
"I would really like the program to focus on retraining," she said.
Martin W. Healy, the MBA's general counsel and interim executive director, said the program is still in the planning stages but is something that would be launched this year to help non-practicing attorneys.
Healy said, "There's still a need for them (non-practicing attorneys) to remain connected to the legal community. There's a thirst out there for people who want to be an active part of the legal community. (Fitzgerald) has made that a priority for this coming year."