I have now had the honor of serving as the CEO of NAMWOLF for two years. While I continue to be excited about more and more in-house legal groups reaching out to our firms and giving them the opportunity to compete for and win the business, I still get frustrated with untrue myths and unreasonable expectations that exist with respect to our minority and women owned firms.
Some of the more repeated untrue myths that I have heard and combated are set forth below.
Myth #1: NAMWOLF firms are not of the same caliber as the firms we currently use.
Response: I find this myth to be one of the most irresponsible and unfair myths I have heard. There is not enough space in this newsletter article to tackle these fallacious comments one by one. Suffice it to say that the lawyers who work at NAMWOLF firms have excellent credentials, worked at “big law” and did very well in “big law” and for a number of reasons, decided to go off on their own. (Hint – look at the statistics about minorities and women in “big law” including the most recent NAWL report. The legal profession is behind every other profession with respect to the advancement of minorities and women.) Every law firm that is part of NAMWOLF went through an onerous, time-consuming law firm vetting process, primarily controlled by in-house counsel. The barriers are several, including having three very strong corporate references from Fortune 500 legal groups that includes statements that the law firm did a great job for the company, they would recommend using them again and would recommend to other Fortune 500 companies that they use the law firm. The firms also must be AV rated 4.5 and higher and certified by WBENC or the NMSDC as women or minority owned. The fact that so many Fortune 500 legal groups use our firms easily dispels this myth.
Myth #2: We can’t use NAMWOLF Firms because we need a firm with a bench?
Response: We have over 150 firms in 40 states that range in size from 3 to more than 300. Most of our firms are in the 15-30 attorney size. While some of the bigger firms have more practice areas they are involved in, many of our smaller firms are involved in fewer practice areas with a razor-like boutique focus. We also have several firms that “partner” with both “big law” and other NAMWOLF firms effectively serving in-house counsel.
Myth #3: While we will consider using NAMWOLF firms in the labor and employment area, for other areas, we will continue to use “big law.” In addition, we will use NAMWOLF firms in less complex matters but not in complex matters.
Response: While NAMWOLF has firms that practice labor and employment law and do a great job serving the corporations that engage them, we also have numerous firms that practice in a myriad of legal areas including: financial services, transactional, trials, intellectual property, white collar crime, health care, oil and gas regulatory, government contracting, ERISA law to name a few. In addition, our law firms are very capable of handling complex and challenging legal matters. Again, just ask the in-house lawyers who are already using our firms across practice areas and with complex problems where expert legal advice is needed.
In addition to the above Myths, there are certain barriers that NAMWOLF firms have to go through that their counterparts at “big law” do not have to address. These include:
1. NAMWOLF Firms are held to a higher standard of quality and value than “big law”
Response: While NAMWOLF Firms are very comfortable having to meet your legal group’s quality and value metrics, there is no reason why they should be held to a higher standard than what you hold a “big law” firm to. In reality, many of our firms are held to a higher standard of care than the big firms. One example – big firms are often forgiven for imperfections while the slightest imperfection by one of our firms is sometimes used to argue that NAMWOLF firms shouldn’t be doing the work.
2. NAMWOLF Firms rates must be lower than the rate we are paying today from “big law.”
Response: NAMWOLF firm owners generally come from the largest, most prestigious law firms. Their rates should reflect their experience, expertise, and the value they bring. NAMWOLF firms’ rates may be somewhat lower because they typically provide more cost-efficient legal services. Work is performed by experienced attorneys, matters are appropriately staffed, and there is generally less overhead. NAMWOLF firms are also typically more open to flexible fee arrangements and fee structures.
3. Preferred/Approved Counsel and Panel Lists should not operate as a bar to using NAMWOLF Firms
Response: Several Fortune 500 companies have recognized there is a clear business benefit to utilizing women or minority owned law firms.
In fact, according to research conducted by The Hackett Group, companies that focus on supplier diversity generate 133% greater return on investment than companies that do not. See “The Hackett Group: Supplier Diversity Does Not Drive Increased Costs” at: http://www.thehackettgroup.com/about/alerts/alerts_2006/alert_08172006.jsp. NAMWOLF has published an article in the ABA Journal of Litigation, Inside Counsel and DRI on the adverse impact of the panel process on minority and women owned law firms. Please take the time to read it HERE.
For those of you who have panels, there are at least three options to ensure that NAMWOLF firms have the opportunity to compete for your business. First, you can agree that there should be a minimum percentage of NAMWOLF firms on your panel list. Second, you can have a separate list with NAMWOLF firms on it. Third, you can have a bypass process where if a NAMWOLF firm is recommended, there is a pre-approved process for bypassing the list. There are most likely other solutions but these are the three that I have seen successfully used. If you believe in high quality and high value legal services that support your Company’s Supplier Diversity initiative, you can find a solution to the panel issue and find opportunities to use our firms.
In closing, it is time for all of us to combat the unfair myths and unreasonable expectations that exist with respect to our law firms and educate the legal profession on who we are, why we exist, and what our law firms can do. With the help of our existing law firms and corporate and governmental entities who are already active and passionate about NAMWOLF, we can help change the landscape and increase the awareness of this tremendous organization. Our firms are amazing both in terms of the quality of their work product and the people who make up the firms. All they want is the opportunity to compete for the business and WOW you. Give them the chance and you will not be disappointed.
This article was created in part from the Guide to Promoting the In-House Legal Department Utilization of NAMWOLF Law Firms at: https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/namwolf.site-ym.com/resource/resmgr/Docs/Guide_to_Promoting_Diversity.pdf that was written by Alan Bryan (Wal-Mart), Gilda Spencer (Allstate), Donna Johnson (Allstate), Shanin Fuller (Ingredion), and Nancy Peterson, with input and oversight by John Murdock (Benton Potter & Murdock, P.C.) and Sheryl L. Axelrod (The Axelrod Firm, PC)