Nicole, by Nicole
It's been more than 9 years since I left my BigLaw partnership position of 15 years and we 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. I wanted to write a new bio but where to begin?
When we built the law firm in 2008 to give clients an alternative to the billable hour, it was a leap of faith. I often say that those of us who took that leap had a little Wilbur & Orville Wright in us. Though not quite the same level of physical risk as the Wright brothers took, we had a taste of what that first test flight must have been like. Only time reveals if you will crash and burn or soar. That I'm writing this bio 9 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 Wilson Sonsini, it certainly validated the leap we took to make alternative fee arrangements mainstream.
In the time since we started, we've learned so many lessons:
- Clients care about results, not hours. Quality, not quantity.
- Clients want shared risk, diversity and efficiency, they don't want lawyers who boil the ocean to make a cup of tea.
- Budget certainty is imperative. Clients now are demanding it. Don't 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.
As with Wilbur and Orville Wright, just having a great original idea does not equal success. We draw on our experience from handling hundreds of cases using AFAs to hone what we do to achieve a successful outcome. On every case, that means:
- defining what “victory” looks like with our clients at the beginning;
- using business tools like decision trees, early case assessments and Valorem-created tools like “collab-o-storms” for the client’s benefit;
- providing our Value Adjustment Line to allow clients to change the invoice to reflect the value of the services received;
- doing detailed After Action Assessments on every matter to identify valuable “lessons learned” for ourselves and our clients.
The cases I handle at Valorem are very similar to the ones I handled when I was in BigLaw -- civil litigation in federal and state courts and in arbitration across the country. That includes: breach of contract, fraud, legal malpractice, defamation, copyright infringement and wrongful conviction actions and more. But now my focus is on results, not the 6 minute intervals I used to bill the clients. I am most proud of a recent $13.4 million jury verdict following a 5 week federal court trial in favor of a client who was wrongfully convicted for a crime he did not commit.
I've also had ample opportunity to flex my creativite muscle. I created our Second Opinions
practice and helped launch our AFA consulting
practice. I am also thrilled to be a co-founder of ValoremNext
, a sister business to Valorem Law, focused on prevention.
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 co-founder, Pat Lamb
, often says, “Our worst day at Valorem is still better than our best days at our old firms.” 9 years in, that still holds true.
What will the next 9 years bring? Hopefully, more change, as we are rebels at our core and the legal industry is simply too complacent. I am grateful for the experiences I have had and for those who have been in the trenches with me. Who knows, when I revise my bio again, it might be from my Valorem rocket ship. Me and Orville and Wilbur Wright.
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 “Top 50 Women Lawyers in Illinois” and one of the “Forty Illinois Attorneys Under 40 to Watch.” In 2017 I was nominated as a "Woman of Influence" by Best Lawyers Magazine and named a "Top Rated Appellate Attorney" by American Lawyer Media and Martindale Hubbell. 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).