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American Today


Lawyers Who Left the Law Return to Careers

By Sally Acharya

Returning to life as a lawyer after taking a break, often to raise a family, isn’t as easy as dusting off a diploma. But it also may not be as daunting as it seems. That’s where the Lawyer Reentry Program at Washington College of Law comes in. The intensive program helps guide returning lawyers through the challenges of getting back into the legal arena.

Many participants, if not all, are women. When they first went to law school, they may have envisioned a hard-driving career full of stimulating cases, long hours, and the satisfaction of doing something they loved. At some point, though, life took a different turn.

Some have been out of the field for several decades; for others, it’s only been a few years. But it’s long enough to feel the difference that time out of the law can make.

“By and large, participants don’t want to go back to the conventional practice of law,” says executive director and coach Linda Mercurio. “It may not be well suited to allowing them to manage whatever competing interest they have.”

A lawyer who stopped practicing 10 years earlier to raise a family still has her family, though the children are now older, and may not want go back, say, to the pressure-cooker world of a trial lawyer. The trick is to find a way to incorporate her interest in the law back into her life, so that all the pieces fit.

The intensive series of classes begin with self-assessment. What are the returning lawyers’ “motivators?” What excites them to do a job? As a general rule, Mercurio says, “it’s not the money."

The program helps many participants decide how they want to pursue their interest in the law at this point in their lives.

Amy Beckett, who participated in last year’s program, had left her Chicago law practice in 1992 when her husband’s job took the family to Australia. When they returned, it wasn’t to Chicago — where she had her contacts — but to Washington, D.C.

When her youngest daughter started middle school, she wanted to go back to the law. “I like the idea of autonomy, of being a role model for my girls,” she says. “I also wanted to use the skills I worked so hard to develop and build. But it was hard getting back.”

So she enrolled in the Lawyer Reentry Program. “It was a huge relief to have an instant community of supportive peers who were in similar circumstances,” she says. “So many of us think we’re the only one. There was so much confidence building and camaraderie, and I really liked being in the law school setting.”

Beckett is now an associate at a Washington, D.C., law firm and enjoying the new stage in her life tremendously. That’s a story that can be told of many women in the program.

“The participants are amazing,” Mercurio says. “If you could make a firm out of all the people who are there, it would be a powerhouse.”

This year’s program runs from Oct. 2 through 17.