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Yuka Sugar didn’t want to be another casualty, never returning to the legal profession after taking a few years off to raise her children. A third-year trademark associate at Fenwick & West when she decided to have the first of her two girls, Sugar ended up staying home to raise both. After nearly five years at home she was eager to get back, but she couldn’t take the first step. “I just kept putting it off,” Sugar said. “I said maybe the kids aren’t old enough, I’ll wait another year. … I realized I was just fearing the change.” The nudge she needed came when a friend from a local parent group told her about a re-entry program at Hastings College of the Law. Launched last fall, the eight-week seminar brings together a small group of attorneys who have been absent from the profession a year or more. It is one of a very few in the nation; Pace University in New York State is starting its own version. Members of the Hastings seminar meet to discuss job hunting tips and interviewing techniques, as well as the nuts and bolts of negotiating flexible work arrangements. Librarians also help them learn the latest tricks in legal research software. The program certainly isn’t a cure-all � it doesn’t set up interviews with law firms, for instance. But participants say the group provides a much needed confidence boost. Megan Howard, recently hired as a part-time special assignment attorney by Farella Braun & Martel, said getting back into the profession was daunting, especially after her six-year pause to raise two children. “You worry that you’ve lost your skills. You worry that people won’t take you seriously, because your commitment to your family will always come first,” she said. On top of that, she was worried about how her return to work would impact her family. “That’s where the opt-in program came in and helped me overcome those hurdles. The women were impressive, smart people who had made similar choices to mine, and that was comforting.” PULLING THEM BACK IN Getting back to work isn’t easy in any profession, according to Hastings law professor Joan Williams, who hatched the “Opting Back In” program idea. Business schools offer similar programs, Williams said, but she hadn’t heard of another law school in the country that helped attorneys return to the workforce. Statistics underscore the difficulty of re-entry in any profession: 93 percent of highly trained professional women who leave the workforce want to return, Williams said, citing research from sociologist Pamela Stone. But only 40 percent make it back to full-time mainstream jobs. And the legal world is particularly infamous for shedding women who choose to devote time to serious commitments other than work. “What the program is designed to help [lawyers] with is to provide a structured context where they can develop a strategy and take concrete steps every week to get back to legal jobs,” Williams said. “It’s possible to do this on your own, but it’s not easy. Being a stay-at-home is a taxing and complicated and time-consuming job, and it’s very hard to get time for yourself to pursue what may seem like an illusory goal.” Open to everyone, not just Hastings alums, the re-entry program is in the middle of its second running, which started in February and ends in March. Classes are small � capped at about a dozen � and it costs $500 for an eight-week session. Participants meet once a week for two hours to check on each other’s weekly accomplishments, as well as to lay out the next week’s goals. Most, but not all, of the participants are women. Employers visit to give talks about what they look for in applicants, and career counselors offer advice on how to talk about the gap in the resume. And hiring partners say that in a marketplace that is turning up the heat on competition for talent, the seminars offer a new recruitment venue. The potential wasn’t lost on Fenwick & West partner Ralph Pais, who visited the first class as guest speaker. “It made me think that, hey, there’s a pool of people out there that we would’ve never considered looking at before,” he said. “I remember walking out and thinking, wow, these are talented people who know exactly what they want to do.” Though Pais has not hired anyone from the program, he said he came away impressed with the group’s maturity and clarity of purpose. Andrew Leibnitz, a recruiting partner at the 120-lawyer Farella Braun, said he has watched the marketplace for new hires heat up in the past six months, particularly for intellectual property and general commercial litigators. “There aren’t as many graduates to draw from as in years past, or the competition is steeper,” he said. “Having a chance to find great candidates wherever they come from is key.” He wouldn’t overlook the program as a source, Leibnitz, who learned about it from Howard, added. STILL HAVE TO WORK One service support programs don’t provide is matching employers with candidates. And, what job seekers are able to accomplish while they are on their career break is just as important for their future employment prospects as joining the Hastings group. Sugar, for example, had kept one foot in the profession through volunteer mediation work for the city of Mountain View. That, hiring partners said, went a long way toward her landing her first job after leave. In January, 620-attorney Howrey hired Sugar as a full-time trademark associate. Partner Katherine Basile said Sugar’s volunteer work demonstrated dedication to the practice and exposed her to the level of experience that is applicable to her work at Howrey. Basile said she was equally impressed with the resolve which Sugar brought to her job search. Partaking in the Hastings program showed that Sugar was not the type to leave stones unturned, Basile said. “What it demonstrated to me was a person who took a very thoughtful and thorough approach to returning to practice,” she said. “In my profession � in both litigation and prosecution of trademarks � it’s a sign of a good lawyer.” For Sugar, work and family continue to be a careful balancing act. Because she can’t be at home with them anymore, her little girls, 2 and 4 years old, sometimes still ask whether they have to go to preschool every day now. But her husband, a software engineer at Yahoo Inc., helps by picking the children up and cooking dinner most nights. As she talks about her hopes to someday make partner, Sugar adds another thought. “One day I hope it’s not a news item that a woman who’s been out of the law found a law job,” she says. “One day it won’t be such a big news thing that I got a job.”

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