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Out-of-Practice Attorneys Can Go 'Back to the Bar'

After seeing re-entry programs for other professional fields, two Upper St. Clair attorneys design a Bar Association program to help make a return to a law career a bit easier.

Allegheny County Bar Association is offering "Back to the Bar," a career re-entry program for attorneys.
Allegheny County Bar Association is offering "Back to the Bar," a career re-entry program for attorneys.
Leaving a career field—and deciding to return to it—can create challenges on many different levels.

Changing technologies, new laws and a loss of confidence in skills are just some of the reasons it can be daunting for someone who has been away from their career path because of staying home to raise children, caring for elderly parents, trying out a different job or any number of other reasons.

The Allegheny County Bar Association has initiated a new program to deal with some of those re-entry challenges for attorneys who left the field and want to return. "Back to the Bar" will provide training in practical legal skills, career-related workshops and the opportunity to network with similarly situated individuals and members of the local legal community.

"Back to the Bar" is available for attorneys who practice law in the Pittsburgh/Allegheny County region, including residents of Butler and Washington counties. 

The program will be offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Sept. 24 to Oct. 10 at the City-County Building and various other locations in downtown Pittsburgh.

The six sessions will include workshops on resumes and cover letters, interviewing techniques, social media, legal writing, online legal research and current software. Participants will be paired with a mentor and receive a one-year membership in the bar association.

For cost and other details about the program, click here. There are a limited number of spaces, so those interested are encouraged to apply early.

"I wish there had been a program for me when I tried to re-enter the field after a break," said Erin Gibson Allen, the Upper St. Clair attorney who approached the bar association about starting such a program. 

Allen enlisted the help of attorney Alysia M. Keating, also of Upper St. Clair, who is the director of Diversity and Gender Equality for the bar association. 

Keating had been a partner in a Florida law firm when she decided to take a hiatus from her career, according to a story in The Almanac. During her seven years out of the legal market, her family moved to Pittsburgh. Not only did she find herself applying for a non-traditional position, but doing it in a new location.

As she interviewed for her job with the bar association, she found herself in front of 12 legal professionals at a table. She admits that was "intimidating."

"Helping to build confidence back is one of the biggest goals of the program," Keating said.

Allen had worked as a freelance writer and editor during her 13-year hiatus, including writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She actually used those interviewing skills when contacting similar programs around the country as she and Keating worked to design the new program here.

Although universities have offered similar programs, the Allegheny County Bar Association program is the first of its kind in the country.

"This is sponsored by a bar association with support from law schools (Duquesne University and University of Pittsburgh)," Allen said.

Allen said that participants reported back to schools that sponsored similar programs that those sessions offered a "lot of confidence." That's something Allen said she could have benefited from as she began trying to return to her profession.

"It was kind of a challenge to know what kind of job I should look for," said Allen, who had worked as a lawyer in transitional health care. 

To prepare for her return, she took a volunteer clerkship—what she labels a "returnship"—with Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan, chief magistrate for the U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania. Allen said the clerkship gave her the opportunity to get her skills back.

Afterward, she landed a job as a staff attorney with Reed Smith, providing support in the investment management group. She said that both her new job and her previous position are in highly-regulated areas, so that while they are different, she was able to adapt her skill set.

Keating said that the program will offer assistance to participants in accounting for their time away from law. Career development professionals and recruiters can help them craft their stories in a way that will be received well as they re-enter the profession.

"This is a national trend to help people re-enter their fields," Allen said, noting it is not exclusive to just law careers or females. "It's an idea that's time has come."

Are you looking to re-enter your field or searching for a new job? Check out Patch's job listings on Careerbuilder by clicking here.

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