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May 29, 2015 Practice Points

A Unique Intern Class—Returning to Law After Voluntary Leave

By Katie Foley

In the article, “GCs Find Untapped Talent in Women Returning to Law,” (login required) author Melissa Maleske discusses JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s (JPM) new in-house counsel internship “re-entry program.” Unlike other internship programs, this program is limited to “attorneys trying to return to work after extended voluntary leaves.” Generally, this includes “high-performing attorneys who fall outside the typical pool of in-house candidates” and women, who are more likely to take family-related leaves.

The program’s backbones are training and mentorship. The training sessions consist of continuing legal education and back-to-work refresher courses on “new technology, networking, writing an executive summary and presenting to senior leadership.” JPM also pairs up with the company’s outside counsel to lead the educational components. The author notes that companies should consider partnering with law firms as they can be “priceless allies for law departments looking to launch these kinds of efforts.” According to the article, the company benefits from additional legal training while the law firm gets a “better understanding of its client’s business and needs.”

Mentorship is another important feature of the program. Each intern is assigned two mentors: one from JPM and a partner from its outside counsel’s law firm. The “in-house” mentors are selected based on their knowledge of the company’s business and ability to make interns feel comfortable coming to them with questions. The firm mentors, on the other hand, provide guidance on working with outside counsel.

The article encourages other companies and law firms to adopt similar internship programs for this “underutilized pool” of talent. According to the author, tapping into this pool is a huge benefit for companies as candidates come to the table with the “training and investment” from their prior experiences and have had time to mature and gain life experiences from being in the workforce. According to JPM’s director of the “re-entry program,” the candidates perform “at an extremely high level, almost as if there had been no gap in work experience” and contribute as if they were a lateral hire.

The article notes that what is essential to these types of internship programs “is a commitment to the program, which includes devoting time and people to training and mentorship.” The program can be adapted to fit the size and resources of the company. Another essential component is having the right candidates. Successful candidates are those who are open and eager to learn and try new things, take coaching and advice, and respond to mentorship.

Keywords: litigation, woman advocate, training, mentorship, internships, voluntary leave, in-house counsel

Katie Foley is an Associate at Hinshaw & Culbertson in Minneapolis, Minnesota

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