If you’re like me, you’re happily ensconced (hmm, where have I seen that before…?) in your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Your company may have a Diversity Committee in place and may have implemented diverse hiring and retention practices. They may hold trainings and events intended to promote awareness. Your legal department may even encourage outside counsel to staff minority and women attorneys on matters. All good stuff.
What else is there? Last week, I attended a day-long regional meeting for a fantastic nonprofit diversity organization. Although the fees to attend their conferences and meetings (which include CLE) are hundreds of dollars, in-house counsel get to attend them for free. You just need to pay a $59 shipping and handling fee. Wait, scratch that last part. (Been watching way too many infomercials lately.)
So, which organization was this, and what great tips did I leave with on how in-house counsel can further their companies’ diversity initiatives?
The organization is the National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms. Known by the wacky acronym, NAMWOLF, it helps in-house counsel and MWOLFs to find each other.
How does NAMWOLF do this? Glad I asked! Its core service is to vet MWOLFs through an independent evaluation process which includes review of a firm’s reputation, Martindale-Hubbell rating, references, awards, and practice area expertise. There are lots of requirements, and the process can be quite long. If a firm were to apply now, they could probably expect a decision by the year 2035. Just kidding, it’s not that long. But it is “several months,” according to their site.
Those persistent firms that make it through the application hurdles become members of NAMWOLF. This rite of passage doesn’t guarantee that in-house counsel will be satisfied with any particular NAMWOLF firm, but it sure beats having to go through a full vetting process yourself. Because that’s as fun as it sounds. Plus, as in-house counsel, you don’t have to go to a single NAMWOLF meeting to have access to information about these member firms. You can just search for them on NAMWOLF’s website.
If your company is able to commit to a certain amount of outside counsel spend for MWOLFs (which don’t necessarily have to be members of NAMWOLF), there are a couple of more formal initiatives that you can look into.
There’s a CPEPP program for companies that set a goal to spend 5% or more of their outside counsel budget on MWOLFs. That doesn’t sound like a lot, does it? I mean that’s 95% that you can continue spend on non-MWOLFs. Who knows — your company may already be spending 5% on MWOLFs — become a part of CPEPP and get recognition in the diversity world for it!
Another program you can consider is the Inclusion Initiative. For this one, there’s no set percentage that your company needs to commit to, but the expected spend should be significant. In 2011, 17 companies pledged to collectively spend $70 million with diverse firms, so that gives you an idea. You know, the types of companies that are making enough money to get sued all the time.
Besides the fact that conferences are free for in-house counsel and you can get CLE credits, it’s really easy to network at these things. I’m not sure why, but the atmosphere during NAMWOLF networking events is the most casual and friendly that I’ve ever experienced at any lawyers’ conference. Basically, you catch someone’s eye (or someone catches yours if you’re on the shy side), and the next moment, you’re sharing your deepest, darkest diversity secrets with the dude trying to offer you a cocktail weenie. It’s a great way to get to know MWOLFs, as well as to meet other in-house counsel and get feedback on the minority firms and vendors that they’ve used. Or to just hang together with drinks at the Ghost Bar, like we did at last year’s conference.
Some other ways that your company can further its diversity efforts is to become a sponsor of NAMWOLF. Try thinking out of the box — sponsorship doesn’t have to mean monetary support. I’m sure NAMWOLF would be happy to take your products and services as well. I mean, they have to figure out something to serve at these events. I particularly recommend those of you who work at beer and liquor companies to pony up your products. Feel free to start by offering your booze at the meetings in my region.
For those of you who are now interested, you unfortunately missed a great excuse to go to the Bellagio in Vegas last year. But this year’s conference will be in Atlanta, which is kind of like Vegas. Just… you know… not. But all of the above opportunities will still apply. (Except for the Ghost Bar — that’s in Vegas. Sorry.) But I’m sure the NAMWOLF folks are planning something equally exciting for this October. (You are, right, Yolanda??)
Just FYI, I’ve turned off comments to this article. So unfortunately, we’ll have to miss out on all of the warm fuzzies that our commentariat would have loved to offer on this topic. Comments will be back on for next week. Also FYI, NAMWOLF had no part in my writing this article. That said, now that I’ve given them some free press, I expect them to do me a favor in return and let me into the conference for free this year. Oh wait… it’s already free for in-house counsel. D’OH.
Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company. Also, the experiences Susan shares may include others’ experiences (many in-house friends insist on offering ideas for the blog). You can reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.