Joel Stern on Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Workforce

PERSUIT got together with Joel Stern, the CEO of the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms, Inc. (NAMWOLF), and asked him about the future of Diversity and Inclusion in the legal workforce. Joel answered the following (and more): why diversity-owned firms can be barred from preferred panels and how they can best position themselves in the legal marketplace; the rationale for supplier diversity being both a business imperative and a moral imperative; and what corporations are doing right now to move the needle with D&I, especially in light of the BLM movement. See below for the full video and a few takeaways.


  • Barriers to Diversity and Inclusion: why are women and minority owned law firms systematically barred from preferred panels? One part of the answer is static RFP practices.
    • “When you send out the RFPs to those large firms you're going to be sending them out to the same firms that you've been using historically -- that you play golf and tennis with at the club. And you're going to be ignoring the firms that you're trying to give the ability to come into your corporate world..”
  • What does it take to be a NAMWOLF  firm? It’s not just about diversity. Diversity is the value-add to the necessary factors of quality and value.
    • “Let's use NAMWOLF as an example. We are a non-profit trade association made up of 195 certified minority, women and LGBTQ+ firms, but we're not first and foremost selling diversity. What we're selling, and what all of our law firms are selling, is the amazing quality and value that they provide that's equal to if not better than what you are used to getting, with diversity & inclusion being the cherry on top of the ice cream. So what our firms need to continue to do - and they do a pretty good job of it - is sell the quality and value that they bring to the table. They may get in the door because they're minority or women owned, but they're only going to get the business if they rank equally if not better than the majority firms they’re competing with…”
  • While women and minority owned law firms vary with regard to whether expectations are met just like major law firms, women and minority owned firms are often held to a higher standard, which is a lot of pressure.
    • “As a buyer of legal services for most of my career, I am not going to tell you that every single lawyer I used that was with a women and minority owned law firm met or exceeded my expectations;  but I will tell you that the percentage of ‘hitting it out of the park’ with minority and women owned law firms compared to the majority law firms was unequivocally better. And I've heard that from lots of corporations; and the reason for that is obvious, but patently unfair: unlike majority law firms that get three strikes (if you use the baseball metaphor), our law firms not only get only one strike, but they also know if they don't do well, it not only tarnishes their image, but the image of all of our firms in our network. And that's a lot of pressure. They're held to a higher standard than the majority law firms. Our law firms should be held to the same standard.”