Nicole Nehama Auerbach





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Nicole, by Nicole

It's been more than 9 years since I left my comfortabel BigLaw partnership position of 15 years and started Valorem. Other than minor tweaks, my old bio has been largely unchanged. Not a great example for someone who considers herself a change agent.  It is time to write a new bio, but where to begin?

I talk a lot about a saying attributed to Thomas Edison I am fond of: "Vision without execution is hallucination." When we built Valorem in 2008 to give clients an alternative to the dreaded billable hour, we were certainly visionary (and perhaps hallucinating a little as well). Without question, since no one was talking about alternative fees at the time, it was a leap of faith of utmost proportions. Only time reveals if you will crash and burn or soar. That I'm writing this bio nearly 10 years in tells me we at least made the clouds.  When we were named one of the "Top 22 Firms Delivering Alternative Fee Arrangements" in 2016 along with firms like Bartlit Beck, Kirkland & Ellis and Seyfarth Shaw, it certainly validated the leap we took to make alternative fee arrangements mainstream. 

There are so many lessons learned that we always say we are going to write a book. Until we do, here are a few that explain the foundation of Valorem and who I am:   
  • Clients care about results, not hours. Quality, not quantity. More is not always more.
  • Clients want shared risk, diversity and efficiency, they don't (always) want lawyers who boil the ocean to make a cup of tea. 
  • Budget certainty is imperative. Clients not only demand it, they deserve it.
  • Discounting an hourly rate is not an alternative fee.
  • Today, nearly every firm in America says they use alternative fees, but for so many, they simply reverse engineer a billable hour estimate and then add a “cushion.”  We call this "wolves in sheeps' clothing." Don't be fooled.
We draw on our experience from successfully handling hundreds of cases using AFAs in courts and arbitrations across the country. On every case, that means: 
  • defining what “victory” looks like with our clients at the beginning, and in writing;
  • providing our Value Adjustment Line to allow clients to change the invoice to reflect the value of the services received (seriously? um, yes); 
  • doing detailed After Action Assessments on every matter to identify valuable               “lessons learned” that we share with our clients.
The cases I handle at Valorem are the same types I handled when I was in BigLaw but now, I represent both plaintiffs and defendants.  My cases include breach of contract, fraud, legal malpractice, defamation, copyright infringement, wrongful conviction actions and more. I simply litigate differently (and more successfully) now. My focus since starting Valorem is on results, not the 6 minute intervals I used to bill the clients.

I am most proud of a recent $13.4 million verdict following a 5 week federal court jury trial in favor of a client who was wrongfully convicted for a crime he did not commit. No offense to my corporate clients, but righting wrongs for the underdog is simply part of my DNA and a large part of my soul. 

I am also happy to have ample opportunity to flex my creativite muscle at Valorem.  I created our Second Opinions practice and helped launch our AFA consulting practice. I also created our "Lunch with a Cool Person" series -- where we invite cool people over for lunch and a barrage of questions about how they got to where they are in life. I am also thrilled to be a co-founder of ValoremNext, a sister business to Valorem Law, focused on prevention and saving clients and firms money on legal spend.  

I've been humbled to be named one of the "Most Influential Women Attorneys in Chicago" by Crain's in 2017, and by the honors that have been given to me (see the sidebar -- shameless plug) for my work (which isn't really work, since I am one of the few lawyers who can honestly say she likes what she does (on most days)). Since 2008, I’ve learned there is no challenge we cannot overcome, no matter (or firm) we cannot successfully take on and no people I put my faith in more than those around me. As my partner and Valorem co-founder, Pat Lamb, often says, “Our worst day at Valorem is still better than our best days at our old firms.” 10 years in, that still holds true.

What will the next 10 years bring? Hopefully more but productive change and validation of our leap of faith. We are, after all, rebels at our core and the legal industry is simply still too complacent.  I am grateful for all that Valorem is and am thankful to those who have been in the trenches with me. Who knows, when I revise my bio again, it might be from our Valorem rocket ship. Elon Musk -- need a lawyer?