“If I didn’t have this NAWBO lawyers group, I wouldn’t have made it through this time. It would have been impossible for a small firm to stay ahead of this on its own.” —Susan Dawson
Collaborating with others—whether you are sharing resources and best practices or just serving as a sounding board for one another’s ideas—is always valuable. But for a group of NAWBO business and employment lawyers, including both solopreneurs and partners with small and large firms, it’s proven more valuable than ever since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.
The group first came together at the 2018 National Women’s Business Conference in Spokane, Washington, at the suggestion of Susan Dawson of Waltz Palmer Dawson and of NAWBO-Chicago and the NAWBO National Board of Directors. Susan had been researching Spokane and came across Barrister Winery, which is owned by two retired lawyers. With National Board approval, Susan put out a call on social media for lawyers attending the conference to meet for breakfast. She put a “NAWBO Lawyers” sign on the table and then invited everyone who joined her there to happy hour later at the winery.
“The word spread, and a group of us got together for wine and formed an idea,” shares Susan about the start of the NAWBO lawyers group. After the conference, they set up a private Facebook page and scheduled regular monthly calls to connect as a group or as subgroups about everything from how laws differ from state to state, to how they’re innovating and changing, to non-legal competitors like HR consulting firms. “Everyone loved it and it’s grown organically ever since,” she says.
“When Susan approached me about the idea to start a group, I jumped right on board,” says Christina Reger of the Law Offices of Christina Reger and of NAWBO-Greater Philadelphia. “I saw the group as a collaboration of like-minded women—a resource for ideas, thought sharing, mentorship and collaboration. When I went out on my own late last year, my NAWBO lawyers group members were some of the first people to reach out and offer assistance, guidance, time and advice. They have truly been an amazing gift.”
Since lawyers can only practice in states where they are licensed, this group has been a steady source for referrals to one another, too. Say, for instance, that Susan’s Chicago-based client has multiple locations across the U.S. and is facing an employment issue in an office in California, Texas or New York. Lawyers in this NAWBO group can step in as needed to help.
When COVID-19 hit earlier this spring, however, the group proved more valuable than ever. In fact, many of the group members agree they wouldn’t have survived without it. “It has really made a difference for us,” says Carol Keough of Keough Law Firm and of NAWBO-Houston. “We started it way back at a national conference and who would have thought it would come to us supporting one another through this?”
It has made a difference for Andrea Schillaci of Hurwitz & Fine, P.C. and of NAWBO-Buffalo Niagara, too. “I am a newer member of the group who has been more active since the shutdown,” she says. “With all the new legislation coming out that’s impossible to synthesize on your own, having this amazing group of women to chat with, compare notes and see what issues are coming out has been incredible. It’s unlike anything I’ve been part of before.”
Since the group was already collaborating going into the COVID-19 crisis, one employment lawyer in the group quickly emailed the others suggesting a Zoom call, which led to another, and another. For the first few weeks, the group spoke two to three times a week for two hours a day researching and sharing different interpretations of new federal legislation, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and CARES Act, and state legislation and then brainstorming how to work through all of these.
“Trying to digest the new legislation was difficult, so my Zoom meetings with these ladies were a godsend,” says Kamil Canale of Bradley & Gmelich, LLP and of NAWBO-Los Angeles. “We had an outline of the legislation, but not exactly how to implement it while keeping with guidance from OSHA, EDD, etc. We were able to divide up the information and then work together on it.”
“In a time when COVID-19 has brought isolation and uncertainty, these ladies have brought clarity, thoughtfulness, consistency, support and friendship,” says Christina. “I feel like a firm within a larger firm with nationwide support. I can honestly say these women are more than legal colleagues; they are friends. We have shared and laughed through some of the darkest hours in our country’s history, always focusing on how we can assist businesses that are struggling and protect those that are striving to stay afloat.”
Realizing just how many employment forms the new legislation warranted, several NAWBO lawyers group members offered to create and share them with the group through Dropbox. Others offered to review the forms once they were created. The group has since combined these in a comprehensive toolkit that any one of the lawyers can use during his time. In fact, the toolkit can be a source of revenue; it’s being sold by many of the group members to clients with 10 percent of proceeds going back to NAWBO.
“We were selling this toolkit for two weeks before HR companies,” says Susan of the edge this collaboration gave her. “We have never been ahead of a major HR organization like SHRM.” The group is now looking at what their clients will need two to three month from now so they can continue to work together to remain at the forefront.
“This group is very special because everyone is a partner in a law firm with similar backgrounds,” says Kamil. “There’s a better understanding of what each woman goes through with her practice, family life and social life, and trying to balance it all.”
Carol agrees, “Over the years, I’ve been part of the Women’s Lawyer Association here in Texas, but the difference is this group doesn’t compete; we’re really out to help one another. Also, we all know what it’s like to run our own businesses and how tough it is during this time, so we’re more open and willing to share.”
And that’s without a doubt, collaboration at its finest.
The Places They’ll Go…
Here, some of the lawyers in the group weigh in on where they hope to go from here:
“When the crisis first began, I think we all felt a sense of urgency to best serve our small businesses and protect them. Understanding the laws that impacted these businesses and their workers was critical. As a group, we banded together to understand the laws, talk through issues, share resources and documents in a way that not only ensured that we provided the best possible advice to our clients, but assisted us in attracting new business as well. The collaboration of thoughts, ideas and presentations created economies of scale and avoided duplication that let all of us capitalize on the product and use it to best serve our clients and market to other strategic partners to gain new business. I hope we can continue to do so after the crisis is over.” —Christina Reger
“When we originally started this idea, and what I see our group doing more of, is hiring other NAWBO lawyers in other states where we aren’t licensed to do the work. We were doing a little of this before COVID-19 happened. I only wish I had this group a few years ago when I was dealing with a union in California! It would also be great to see other NAWBO members use us as a resource.” —Carol Keough
“One of the things this crisis has shown us is how well we work together. Before this, we’d talk and discuss clients and issues, but we never had a project we collaborated on together like this. Moving forward, I think we are much more cohesive and now that we know we can do this, I think we’ll do a lot more in the future. Or at least that’s my hope!” —Kamil Canale
“The model we’ve developed is really terrific and serves my needs in being able to feel confident responding to my clients’ questions. We’ve had some really great discussions, and there have been times when things have changed in a day or two or even within a few hours like with the Paycheck Protection Program and we’ve been able to turn to each other to share information. I hope we’ll continue to talk at this level on a regular basis.” —Andrea Schillaci
Hear From NAWBO Lawyers Group Members Next Week!
Virtual Lunch and Learn
May 26th at 12 p.m. ET
"Returning to Your [New] Workplace Normal - You Can Do It!”
Presented by the NAWBO Lawyers Group
This webinar will provide guidance from a collaborative group of NAWBO Premier member attorneys who've been working together on employment- and workforce-related pandemic challenges. They will share their insights and knowledge on how to best protect your workplace, employees and business from risk as companies begin to return to onsite work. You'll learn the policies and procedures that should be in place to address COVID-19 health and safety concerns, what to do in the event of a COVID-19 exposure at work, best practices for communicating with your staff and how to protect your company from new and unique risks related to the COVID-19 public health crisis.
Kamil Canale, Esq.: Los Angeles chapter
Carol Keough, Esq.: Houston chapter
Carena Lemons, Esq.: Greater Raleigh chapter
Lisa Coppola, Esq.: Buffalo Niagara chapter (moderator)