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?
In 2008, after nearly 15 years of practice at a BigLaw firm in Chicago, I took a leap of faith and resigned my partnership to become a Founding Partner of Valorem Law Group. Why? The entrepreneur in me longed to build something - a new firm model to give clients an alternative to the billable hour for litigation. In the years since we launched Valorem, we've handled hundreds of cases using AFAs and have a track record of success doing so. In 2016, we were named one of the "22 Law Firms Best at Delivering AFAs" in the country. True validation of what we started in 2008. What's so different?
- Instead of getting paid by the hour, we use customized AFAs: fixed fees, retainers, contingencies, hybrids, to achieve the results our clients want -- with notable cost savings and budget certainty.
- All our fee arrangements have a bonus tied to the results so our interests are always aligned with our clients' interests. We call it "skin in the game."
- We have turned the old pyramid model of legal practice on its head. Instead of one senior partner at the top pushing work down to legions of inexperienced associates, we have more partners at the top so we can draw on our collective wisdom to get to the right strategy and right result faster.
- We expand and contract as needed so our clients don't have to worry about needless overhead. (By the way, we don't have legal pads or water bottles with the firm name on them. If your outside counsel does, you are paying for it!)
- We are equal opportunity lawyers. We represent both the plaintiff and defendant side (nope - sorry, not at the same time).
- We ask a single question at every turn, “How does doing that help achieve the client's goals?”
- We never utter the 8 dreaded words, “Because that’s how it’s always been done before.”
The cases I handle at Valorem are the same as when I was in BigLaw, I just litigate differently now. I represent clients in civil litigation in federal and state courts around the country, and in arbitration and mediation. The more complicated the contract, fraud, legal malpractice action or general dispute, the more I like it. I also created our Second Opinions practice for clients facing pivotal issues in litigation that warrant an objective second opinion for a flat fee.
I have been honored by my peers on several occasions. I was named one of the "Most Influential Women Attorneys in Chicago" in 2017 by Crain's Chicago Business magazine, a “Top 50 Women Lawyers in Illinois” by SuperLawyers magazine and one of the “Forty Illinois Attorneys Under 40 to Watch” by the Law Bulletin Company. I am a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and of the Litigation Counsel of America, a trial lawyer honorary society. I am also a certified arbitrator through the American Arbitration Association.
In addition to my substantive work, I am committed to working on issues related to diversity. In 2008, I founded and am currently the National Board Chair of the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law. The Coalition is one of the only organizations of its kind in the nation, with chapters in Chicago and New York City and more than 150 law firms and companies that work together to facilitate the advancement of women in the profession. I also serve on the Dean's Advisory Council for the DePaul College of Law, on the Advisory Board of the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession. I enjoy writing and speaking about alternative fees, innovation and issues related to women in law. My 6 minute "ignite" speech from ReInvent Law Silicon Valley: Tick Tock, Why Women Should Bash the Clock has been widely circulated.
I am a member of the Federal Trial Bar and have devoted significant time to pro bono work, helping unaccompanied children seeking asylum navigate the U.S. immigrant justice system and, more recently, helping exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals. My proudest moment in my legal career (no offense to my corporate clients) came in January 2014 when I helped exonerate a client who had spent more than 21 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. In 2017, we took his civil rights case to a federal jury and after 5 weeks of trial, obtained a $13.4 million judgment in his favor.
Married and the mother of three boys, I have ample opportunities to hone my negotiation skills at home. Unclear who has the better track record of winning. (Check back in 10 years).