First class of “Comeback Lawyers” graduate from distinctive Pace Law School program after hiatuses from practice lasting up to 20 years

Sometimes the odds seem stacked against lawyers who want to pick up legal practice after taking time out, usually to raise children or pursue other fields.

In previous careers they may have worked in large firms or smaller offices, started their own practices, clerked for a judge, worked in government, or as in-house counsel. What now?

On December 4, twelve women and one man with these diverse experiences will became the first class of graduates from a program recently created at Pace Law School that is offering answers and opportunities. It gives comeback lawyers compact preparation for re-entering the legal workforce.

The graduation ceremony for the unique New Directions Program – the only one of its kind on the East Coast and one of only a handful in the country – took place at 9:30 AM at the Pace University graduate campus, One Martine Avenue, White Plains, NY.

The first class of graduates includes lawyers maintaining a solo practice while in the program to attorneys who have been on hiatus from practice from seven to over 20 years. They graduated from Pace, Albany, Boston University, Brooklyn, Columbia, Duke, New York, St. John’s, Temple, and the University of Virginia law schools.

Pace developed this program two years ago in collaboration with the Westchester Women’s Bar Association. The two-semester, three-part bridge gives lawyers substantive law updates, refreshes their professional skills, and provides contemporary practical experience.

Applications for the next iteration of the program are now being accepted on a rolling basis with a suggested deadline of April 1, 2008. Sessions begin (on May 19) with a weeklong “boot-camp” designed to refresh lawyers’ use of the basic tools of the job market. Classroom work begins June 3 and runs through August 14, with classes held twice weekly, once on Tuesday mornings from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM and once on Thursday evenings from 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM.

A ten-week externship requiring a commitment of approximately 15 hours per week begins after Labor Day. Participants in the first class worked as externs in law firms, with a judge, in nonprofit organizations, government, and New York City cultural institutions.

From large New York City law firm to smaller local firm. One of the graduating attorneys will be Claire Gallagher, a graduate of Columbia Law School. Before she decided to stay home with her three children, she had been an associate at a large New York City law firm. During her 10-year break from practice, she was a jury trial consultant to a law firm, and was very active in her community; as a member of the Board of Directors of several organizations including the Junior League of Westchester on the Sound, Westchester Residents against IKEA Now, and her children’s nursery school.  After the first two parts of the program she pursued her externship at the office of Silverman, Bikkal & Sandberg LLP, doing immigration work. Gallagher was offered, and she accepted, a permanent position with the firm.

Another graduate, Carroll Welch, who attended the University of Virginia Law School, entered the program after a seven-year hiatus.  She had also worked in several large firms prior to taking a break to raise her three children.  While she was serving as full-time caregiver, she too was very active in the community, including serving as a trustee for her village library, secretary of her village museum, and chairperson of her village’s elementary school’s arts enrichment committee.  For her externship, she worked with the Pro Bono Partnership in Westchester, which provides free business legal services to eligible nonprofit organizations.  She had a first-rate experience, and while she will not be continuing there after graduation, she has made excellent contacts and they have given her a number of leads to pursue.

“I am very proud of these students,” said Amy Gewirtz, associate director of alumni counseling and relations at Pace Law School and one of the program’s creators. “It has been challenging and exciting to find ways to help attorneys who have left the profession and are looking to get a foothold back in.”  Deb Volberg Pagnotta, the program’s executive director, said “We provide a ‘soup to nuts’ experience.  We reassure.  We reinvigorate and we help you reinvent.”

For more information, email Gewirtz at

Founded in 1976, Pace University School of Law has nearly 6,500 alumni/ae throughout the country. It offers full- and part-time day and evening JD programs on its White Plains, NY campus. The School also offers the Master of Laws in Environmental Law and in Comparative Legal Studies. The School, which has one of the nation’s top-rated environmental law programs, also offers the SJD program in that field. The School of Law is part of a comprehensive, independent, and diversified University with campuses in New York City and Westchester County.

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