Diversity and Inclusion Champion: Leslie Davis, New CEO of NAMWOLF
As the new CEO of the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF), Leslie Davis is facing a familiar challenge.
“People will say, ‘Everything is not about race,’ and I agree,” Davis said. “But we can look at the events of our current times and there are lots of things that come down to how women and minorities are viewed in a light not befitting of their talent.”
Davis is a first generation lawyer. Being new to the profession, Black, and female, Davis found she had a lot of tight spaces to navigate with little guidance. Facing double standards and disrespect at times, Davis overcame these obstacles by seeking out mentors and never being too shy or arrogant to ask for help. As she became more senior, Davis wanted to add value as a relationship partner, leading cases and having a “seat” at the table. Her obstacles shifted once she became more senior because of the competitive nature of many of her colleagues who saw her as a threat instead of a valued member of the team.
“There is a lot to learn about this profession that you don’t learn in law school – better ways to practice, more efficient ways to get things done,” Davis said. “I have had sponsors and mentors – some who look like me and some who don’t – who were in the rooms to speak up for me and make sure my opinion was valued. They could do this because they were more senior or because they had relationships with the folks I was trying to build relationships with. I don’t take it for granted that they have all collectively helped in some way.”
NAMWOLF’s mission is to promote diversity in the legal profession by fostering successful relationships among preeminent minority and women owned law firms and private/public entities. Davis’ career in white majority-owned law firms has been what she calls “NAMWOLF adjacent.”
“I have seen and experienced many challenges and obstacles women and minority-owned firms face,” Davis said. “I have experienced the victories of finally getting a chance to prove to folks that you deserve the position you occupy and are capable of doing well in whatever you endeavor to do.”
Davis feels this is a great time to be in her role, as many corporations and others want to see diversity remain a top priority. There are now specific efforts to ensure minority and women-owned law firms, businesses, and vendors are thought about when hiring decisions are made.
“So many things have happened recently that show some people are very intentional about not wanting to further diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Davis said. “Those of us who recognize how diverse perspectives add value to the fabric of a legal department and society can come together, and we can work together to do just as much if not more than those who would like to see it fail.”
In her short time as CEO, Davis said many corporations have reached out saying, ‘we are ready, we are with you’, and they want to know how to better engage with NAMWOLF and its firms. She is currently talking to them about their goals and working to ensure those goals are met.
NAMWOLF firms are hired by corporations to lead engagements, and hired by law firms to partner on major matters.
Bradley Gayton, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for The Coca-Cola Company, for example, published an open letter in January to the company’s U.S. legal services providers on their Commitment to Diversity, Belonging, and Outside Counsel Diversity. In the revised guidelines, law firms were encouraged to collaborate with NAMWOLF member firms.
“We are happy to think of all kinds of ways to create connections, and we recognize it is partly human nature that people go to who they are used to partnering with,” Davis said. “We recognize the level of trust and connectivity needed for a working relationship to thrive and grow. It takes dedicated time and intentional effort.”
“I have truly enjoyed working with Leslie as NAMWOLF’s new leader,” said Emery Harlan, Partner at MWH Law Group LLP. “Our firm is committed to her success and we will do everything in our power to assist Leslie in creating opportunities for NAMWOLF’s law firms.”
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OUR COMMITMENT TO DIVERSITY & INCLUSION
At MWH Law Group LLC, we believe a law firm should represent the society it serves. Our strength lies in our differences, not in our similarities. MWH is comprised of people from diverse backgrounds whose individual experiences form the basis of our unique corporate culture. Our diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and ideas allow us to help our clients achieve the best solutions for the legal challenges they face. We are seeking to transform the legal profession by demonstrating that it is possible to deliver the highest quality legal services in a firm environment that is genuinely diverse and inclusive at all levels.