You may be wondering what “NAMWOLF” is and what it has to do with the practice of law. Contrary to myth, it is not some exotic hybrid animal making a special appearance at your local zoo. Rather, it is a more interesting specimen than that and one every practitioner should know about.
NAMWOLF stands for the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms, a non-profit trade organization whose mission is to promote diversity in the legal profession by fostering successful relationships among pre-eminent minority- and women-owned law firms and public and private entities. Founded in 2001 by a handful of visionary lawyers and some forward-thinking in-house counsel counterparts, NAMWOLF now has over 150 member firms located across the country, including Puerto Rico. In 2010, NAMWOLF launched the “Inclusion Initiative,” which is a “collaborative effort of forward-looking companies committed to an immediate and measurable increase in the retention of minority- and women-owned law firms by Corporate America.” In its inaugural year, 11 companies pledged to spend $30 million with diverse law firms but exceeded that goal, collectively spending $42.6 million with minority- and women-owned law firms. The latest figures show that in 2014, the Inclusion Initiative had grown to include 30 participating companies that spent $212 million with diverse law firms. Those figures should make all lawyers and clients take notice that the world is changing and diversity and inclusion is not only an important value but also good business.
NAMWOLF membership benefits member firms as well as their corporate partners. As Robin A. Wofford of Wilson Turner & Kosmo LLP and chair of the NAMWOLF board of directors, explained, “Membership in NAMWOLF has exposed my firm and our clients to an extraordinarily talented group of lawyers nationally that are able to provide unparalleled legal services. If you want talented, honest, passionate, real people representing your organization—NAMWOLF has those lawyers.”
NAMWOLF lawyers represent some of the finest our profession has to offer, and our organization is always looking to expand our roster of diverse-owned firms, entice companies and institutions to give us an opportunity to demonstrate our capabilities, and encourage our big-firm counterparts to consider partnering with us, particularly when they need local counsel as we are often well-known and respected by local judges and adversaries. Clients and their stakeholders increasingly recognize the importance and value of promoting diversity and inclusion in our profession and beyond. By tapping into NAMWOLF’s resources, lawyers in all types of settings can further the interests of making our profession truly embracing to all.
Member Firms: Who Are They and What Do They Stand For?
Aspiring members and corporate in-house counsel unfamiliar with the organization may have the misconception that firms can just pay dues and join. That is not the case. NAMWOLF assures that member firms represent the highest-caliber lawyers providing exceptional service in sophisticated matters. To maintain those standards, a diverse-owned firm interested in becoming a member of the organization should know that the process involves extensive vetting to include only top-tier firms. Some of the criteria for admission include (1) being properly certified by either the National Minority Supplier Development Council or the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, (2) having at least three full-time attorneys, and (3) obtaining highly favorable client references from national and regional corporations, including corporate references within the Fortune 500. NAMWOLF staff also performs independent research on each prospective firm member, and a law firm committee, which comprises in-house counsel and NAMWOLF law firm members, reviews the collected materials before making a recommendation to the board of directors on an applicant’s qualifications for membership.
Once a firm has been approved for membership, the firm lawyers are able to take advantage of many opportunities afforded to members. NAMWOLF prides itself on its ability to cultivate long-lasting relationships between and among its members and with outside corporate counsel. To foster collegiality and mutual respect, NAMWOLF provides many avenues for member firms and corporate counsel to develop relationships that bring value to both sides of the table.
However, like any organization, what is critical to any participant’s success is how much a member firm or a corporate affiliate actively participates in everything the organization has to offer. With NAMWOLF, that is particularly important. That is why our firm, Griesing Law, invested in our NAMWOLF membership from the moment we were admitted. We attended every meeting, joined many committees and subcommittees, and volunteered to help in any way. We understood that it is not enough to merely earn the NAMWOLF accreditation; a firm needs to support its peer firms and in-house counsel colleagues for the affiliation to be worthwhile. Our involvement was critical to the success we hoped to achieve from membership in the organization. Without this commitment, our firm would not have been able to increase its corporate client base or significantly expand its referral network to include contacts around the country. Nor would we have as many friends across the country to which we can turn when our clients need help in places we do not practice. While there are many other opportunities to become fully invested in the organization, two stand out as the most significant: the organization’s Practice Area Committees and organization-wide Business and Annual Meetings and more intimate Regional Meetings.
Practice Area Committees
Our firm is a member of three of the organization’s nine Practice Area Committees (PACs), which provide firms the opportunity to network with peers from around the country. The nine PACs are
- Labor and Employment,
- White Collar Defense and Internal Investigations,
- Retail, Restaurant and Hospitality,
- Financial Services,
- Intellectual Property, and
- Products Liability.
The PACs consist of member firms concentrating their practice in particular matters working with in-house liaisons to assure the organization is meeting in-house needs in terms of legal services, continuing education, and substantive articles. PACs are also avenues for helping in-house counsel readily identify those lawyers both at firms and at other companies who have expertise in a certain areas of law. But more importantly, they create a foundation of support for member firms to easily identify those colleagues in the organization that practice the same area of law. Linda G. Burwell, founder of member firm National Employment Counsel and PAC Oversight Director at NAMWOLF, echoed this in stating, “NAMWOLF’s vibrant and active Practice Area Committee structure brings focused opportunities to introduce companies’ legal counsel having specific needs to NAMWOLF firms or attorneys who have the specialization in those areas of law. We facilitate events that allow direct and meaningful interaction and opportunities to explore bases for ongoing relationships.” In fact, our firm’s involvement in the PACs has not only helped us refer many of our corporate clients to other firms who possess certain expertise but also has helped us received many referrals from other firms involved in the PACs. These committees create national referral networks, and through peer-to-peer education via PAC-sponsored CLE programs, NAMWOLF firms bolster their reputations as industry thought leaders. Overall, the PACs help corporate partners and law firms to connect on substantive and industry issues of shared interest and enable corporate clients to meet their legal needs efficiently.
In addition, NAMWOLF firms nationwide have banded together regionally to host events that introduce companies in their geographic area to NAMWOLF and member firms. In many instances, these local events are a company’s first exposure to the depth of expertise and wealth of talent available through membership in the organization. The events are often paired with substantive programming so that in-house counsel intrigued by the possibility of meeting a roster of talented diverse-owned firms can actually sample some of NAMWOLF’s treasures at no expense and with a modest time commitment.
The organization also promotes its efforts through various regional meetings and two large multiday meetings each year: a business meeting and an annual meeting. The primary objective of the business meeting, which is smaller and less “celebratory” than the annual meeting, is for NAMWOLF, in-house counsel, and member firms to develop strategies to help NAMWOLF advance its mission and achieve its vision. It also focuses on practice areas aligning in-house and law firm lawyers by subject matter expertise.
Over the course of the four-day annual meeting, member firms and in-house counsel have many opportunities to (1) learn about NAMWOLF’s benefits, (2) network with each other at the more than 10 CLE offerings, (3) attend a member firm expo, and (4) enjoy many social functions. While approximately 350 attorneys attend the business meetings, the annual meeting draws over 700 attorneys. Joel Stern, chief executive officer of NAMWOLF and former deputy general counsel at Accenture, says that for in-house counsel, the business and annual meetings are a “Great way to ‘dip your toes’ into NAMWOLF waters. A very low-risk proposition—no cost to in-house, a variety of CLEs, and our annual meeting features an expo to meet member firms formally or informally. Both meetings also feature several in-house only sessions where in-house can network and talk about diversity and inclusion issues in the legal space along with other issues. Both member firms and corporate counsel that attend typically attend year after year and have frequently commented that these are the best events that they have attended whether involving diversity or otherwise.”
The next business meeting will be in New Orleans in February 2016 and the next annual meeting will be in Houston in September 2016. As always, attendance is free for corporate counsel.
Keywords: litigation, diversity, inclusion, NAMWOLF, minority-owned law firms, women-owned law firms