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Diversity & Inclusion Champion: Joel Stern, CEO NAMWOLF

October 1, 2020
Emery Harlan






Joel Stern serves as CEO of the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms, Inc. (NAMWOLF), an organization that I love. Joel was appointed CEO in March of 2014 after more than ten years of active involvement, including service as a board member and chair of the In-House Advisory Council.

NAMWOLF was founded in 2001. Its 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. Under Joel’s leadership, the nonprofit trade association has grown to include over 195 certified minority-owned law firms in 42 states. NAMWOLF partners with over 145 in-house counsel groups at Fortune 500 companies and governmental entities. These organizations have committed to give at least 5 percent of their outside counsel budget to minority and women-owned law firms.

In my humble opinion, Joel Stern is the leading voice in pushing for greater diversity in the legal profession. When Joel was being considered for the CEO position at NAMWOLF, many questioned whether it made sense to place a white male in the role. I don’t think anyone involved in NAMWOLF would dare question that decision in light of all that Joel has accomplished. While there have been many individuals, law firms, corporations and other entities that can rightfully claim credit for growing NAMWOLF into the cutting edge organization that it has become, no one is more responsible for that growth than Joel Stern. I’m proud to call him a friend and deeply respect all that he has done.

In a recent interview with the U.K.-based Interlaw Diversity Forum, Joel said, “What is central to NAMWOLF is not just the certification that you are truly diverse, but the very onerous vetting process to let firms into NAMWOLF. So, it’s not just minority, women or LGBT majority ownership, but that you have to go through a qualitative test to ensure that you are the type of firm that’s already delivering great services to Fortune 500 corporations.”

Joel has aimed to improve diversity and inclusion in the legal profession since early on in his career. He spent more than 25 years as an in-house counsel for major companies. From 1996-2010, Joel acted as Chief Operating Officer for Accenture and its 420-member global law department. He also managed the consulting firm’s outside counsel relationships as well as North and South America legal matters. He was a member of Accenture’s US Leadership Team and its global Operations Council, and also part of the firm’s CEO Advisory Counsel. In this role, Joel led a team of attorneys to create a “best in class” diversity and inclusion legal program and during his tenure, the Minority Corporate Counsel Association gave Accenture its “Employer of Choice” award.

As NAMWOLF CEO, Joel developed an accredited CLE titled, “Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession: A Business and Moral Imperative,” that has been given to hundreds of in-house counsel across the U.S. and has served as a great vehicle to galvanize legal groups to do more in the diversity and inclusion space.

Since 2010, under Joel’s leadership, NAMWOLF has fostered the Inclusion Initiative, a collaborative of forward-looking companies that seek to maximize opportunities for diverse law firms to grow while meeting the needs and cost concerns of their major corporate clients. The companies participating in the Inclusion Initiative have commitments to provide a reliable pathway into the legal profession for diverse law students and young lawyers, and serve as a recruitment source of diversity in majority owned law firms and the judiciary.

In seven years, the 33 Inclusion Initiative companies have given minority and women owned law firms over a $1.5 billion. These companies include: Bank of America, Coca Cola, Google, NBC Universal, Accenture, Wells Fargo and Prudential.

“It’s a pivotal moment to act on this for general counsel. Due to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, we may be hitting a tipping point where we now have more people that recognize that not only do we have inequality in our respective countries but we also have inequality in the legal profession,” Joel said to the Interlaw Diversity Forum. “But you can’t solve for the inequality of the legal profession if you’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle, which is diverse talent that are starting their own law firms.”

Unfortunately, Joel has decided to retire from NAMWOLF and pursue other interests. I will always be deeply grateful for Joel’s tireless dedication to NAMWOLF specifically, but the legal professional generally. His advocacy for greater diversity in the legal profession has moved the needle and impacted countless lawyers, law firms and corporations. The question now is, “Who will take the baton?!”

© MWH Law Group LLP 2020. All rights reserved.


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.




Emery K. Harlan
Partner – Milwaukee & Chicago

735 N. Water Street, Suite 610
Milwaukee, WI 53202
P: (414) 436-0353 | F: (414) 436-0354