These days, women and minorities have increased opportunities to create their own firms. The next challenge? Engaging companies to hire them.

Joel Stern, an attorney and CEO of the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF), a non-profit network of the most outstanding law firms in the country, told Lumen Legal, one of NAMWOLF’s law firm partners: “We want minority and women-owned law firms to have every opportunity, not only to survive but thrive.”

NAMWOLF represents 170 firms in 42 states, across many areas of practice like product liability, labor and employment, intellectual property, trials, financial services and more.

Building diversity programs

"Give these firms the opportunity to compete for the business."

One of the ways NAMWOLF advocates for increased diversity in the legal profession is through supplier diversity, calling on Fortune 500 companies and governmental entities to retain minority and women-owned law (MBE/WBE) firms.

“We’re not telling corporations to give these firms business because they’re minority or women-owned,” Stern told Lumen Legal. “We are, however, telling these corporations to give these firms the opportunity to compete for the business. If that occurs, NAMWOLF and our firms are confident that they can win the business.”

Seven years ago, large corporations, including Microsoft, Prudential and DuPont, started an inclusion initiative to work with MBE/WBE firms. NAMWOLF manages the initiative and says those 32 companies have paid over $1.25 billion dollars to MBE/WBE firms.

They also have a partner program for corporations that pledge to commit at least five percent of their legal needs to MBE/WBE firms.

Looking to the future

While many corporations are making great efforts to value diversity, inclusion and equity in their legal providers, others are still hesitant. Stern spends a lot of time clearing up myths and misunderstandings. For example, some companies argue MBE/WBE firms can’t handle their business’ complex workload, while in other cases, one bad experience with a MBE/WBE firm can turn a company off to seeking that legal diversity in the future.

“It truly does take a village, and our village is inclusive,” Stern told Thomson Reuters, noting that diversity in the legal field is improving — but that there’s still work to be done.