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Nicole Nehama Auerbach

Co-Founder, ElevateNext

Education, etc.

  • J.D. with honors – DePaul College of Law 
    • Dean’s Scholarship 
    • Merit Scholarship, Illinois Women’s Bar Foundation 
    • DePaul Law Review –  Notes & Articles Editor
    • Order of the Coif
  • B.A., Journalism – University of Wisconsin, Madison 

By Nicole Nehama Auerbach

The “edge effect” is the place where two habitats or ecosystems meet. They say that in this space — at the edge — the most unique and diverse species can be found. I am drawn to that edge, and it figured prominently in my decision to launch ElevateNext, a certified majority woman-owned law firm, with Pat Lamb.

I am no strangers to edges – even precipitous ones. I spent the first 15 years of my career at an AmLaw 100 firm in Chicago where I was a partner in the litigation department. In 2008, I co-founded Valorem Law Group, a law firm designed to take a bite out of the “that’s-how-we-have-always-done-it-before” manner of practicing law. Our biggest target for change (or decimation) was the billable hour, at a time when no one had heard of alternative fee arrangements. Our firm garnered national acclaim as one of the pioneers of the AFA movement, and now alternative fees are commonplace. In 2016. Valorem was named one of the “Top 22 Firms at AFAs” by BTI Consulting, alongside some of the oldest and largest firms in the country.  But like all edge species, we evolved. Our new target is simplifying the delivery of legal services at scale.  Enter ElevateNext.

Why Did We Create ElevateNext?   We know that customers care about outcomes and they prefer to get them simply and cost-effectively.  We also have learned that most legal matters may need lawyers for some parts of the work, but not all. We also saw that legal service providers like Elevate were starting to handle every aspect of legal service delivery imaginable – from building large, scalable teams for managed services, to providing legal operations, document review, project management, consulting, technology design, AI and staffing, and doing so at a substantially lower cost than law firms or keeping the work in-house. The best legal service providers have become solution design specialists, creating processes to make work within law departments and law firms more effective.

Until recently, in many jurisdictions in the U.S., legal service providers could not own law firms. Therefore, they could not provide legal advice or representation in court or for certain matters, but as a law firm, we could.  We formed ElevateNext (the law firm) to sit alongside Elevate  so collectively, we could give customers the lawyer-led solutions they wanted with the benefit of everything else Elevate offers in the mix.  In 2021, Elevate obtained an Alternative Business Structure license (ABS) in Arizona, allowing it to own ElevateNext outright there.  This is a game-changer in the legal industry because it allows customers to go to one place — Elevate, for all aspects of its work, including those aspects that require licensed lawyers.  Whether working through the ABS or not, the lawyers in ElevateNext handle the legal advice, counsel, oversight and escalation, while Elevate provides the  operations, process, non-legal professionals and technology. Together, we seamlessly deliver legal services more effectively, less expensively and with better outcomes.  We chose Elevate because we believe it is the best legal service provider, hands down.  Like us, Elevate is customer-centric and laser-focused on “delighting” its customers. 

Our Edge:   Our “edge effect” is at this intersection of law firm + legal service provider.  No one else is providing these combined services in one model.  We believe we are creating today what will be the go-to model of tomorrow — an amazingly unique habitat that blends the practice of law and the business of law.  Also, as a “edge model” firm — some of our best customers are other law firms. We have seen that the combination of ElevateNext  + Elevate can be a true benefit to traditional law firms trying to compete in today’s legal arena. 

The typical bio stuff:   After spending the first 15 years of my career as a litigation partner in an AmLaw 100 firm in Chicago, I co-founded Valorem Law Group in 2008.  I co-founded ElevateNext in 2018. I practice in federal and state courts across the country, am a certified arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association, and am particularly drawn to complicated cases, innovation and fashioning workable solutions. Strategy is my favorite, but creativity is probably my biggest strength.  Though I adore lawyering, building new legal models and disrupting the status quo is just as much of a passion.   I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to do a fair amount of that in my career. 

In 2022, I was named “One of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Illinois” by SuperLawyers. I was named,  a “2019 Notable Gen X Leader In Law” by Crain’s Chicago Business, and in 2017, “One of the Most Influential Women Lawyers in Chicago,”  all huge honors.  In 2017, I obtained one of the top 11 verdicts in Illinois in a civil rights trial for a client who was wrongly convicted and spent 21 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Getting him exonerated was the highlight of my career. I co-founded the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law, which now has chapters in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. and supports the development, retention and promotion of women lawyers. I sit on the Advisory Board for the Institute of Inclusion in the Legal Profession and of NovusLaw and am a fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and the American Bar Foundation.

I’m thrilled  that on this current path, I get to walk next to many others who default to thinking outside the box. Collectively, we will continue to swing our machetes until what was once an “edge” is simply a well-trodden path for all. 

Nicole Auerbach is a former litigation partner of an AmLaw 100 law firm who has disrupted the legal industry – twice. First, in 2008 by co-founding Valorem Law Group — nationally known for pioneering Alternative Fee Arrangements in sophisticated litigation. In 2018, she co-founded ElevateNext, a certified majority woman-owned law firm affiliated with global law company, Elevate, to deliver solutions to law departments and law firms. ElevateNext provides the practice of law capability and harnesses Elevate’s +1,200 global team with expertise in tech, process management, data science, operations, eDiscovery and managed services to reduce costs and drive efficiencies without sacrificing outcomes. ElevateNext was named one of the “Best Firms at AFAs” in 2020 by BTI Consulting and a Best Law Firm in Commercial Litigation by U.S. News & Best Lawyers for 2021.

Nicole litigates cases in federal and state courts across the country. The more complex, the better. She especially enjoys bringing new legal delivery models to the forefront. In 2019, she was named a “Notable Gen X Leader In Law” and in 2017, one of the “Most Influential Women Attorneys in Chicago” by Crain’s Chicago Business, one of the “Top 50 Women Lawyers In Illinois” by SuperLawyers, and a “Forty Under 40 to Watch.” In 2017, she achieved the 11th largest jury verdict in Illinois. Though commercial litigation is her specialty, handling pro bono and civil rights matters is a passion. In 2014, she helped exonerate a client who spent 21 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. She then obtained a $13.4 million jury verdict after a 6-week federal civil rights trial. In 2018, she helped obtain a +$10 million settlement for two more civil rights clients. Prior to that, she helped unaccompanied minors navigate the asylum system and was on the advisory council of the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Nicole co-founded the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law in 2007. It now has chapters in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.  She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and American Bar Foundation, and an Advisory Board Member of the Institute of Inclusion in the Legal Profession and for Novus Law. She is also a certified arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association.

Nicole often speaks about innovation in law (an oxymoron?), AFAs and issues impacting women in law. She gave the keynote address called “Thinking Outside the Barks” at the Hill’s Pet Nutrition new veterinarian conference in 2019 and at the Tennessee Lawyers’ Association for Women Empowerment Conference in 2018. Her speech at ReInvent Law Silicon Valley, “Tick Tock, Why Women Should Bash the Clock” has been widely circulated.

What Pat Lamb Says About Nicole

A few things about Nicole that she didn’t mention, but that I will: Because she is relatively humble (no trial lawyer is entirely humble), Nicole has not mentioned what an outstanding lawyer she is. Heads and shoulders better than me. To use a baseball description, she is “a five-tool player.” Accomplished trial lawyer and skilled advocate. Street smart. Great insights into people, especially how to take advantage of opponents’ vulnerabilities. Fantastic, clear writer. Exceptional strategist. Tenacious investigator. Streamlined and efficient. Walks the walk before she talks the talk. The only area where Nicole is not exceptional is Excel spreadsheets, but she is improving!

Some random facts:

  • I was born on my parents’ bed (no, not planned) and delivered by my neighbor – a psychiatrist. My middle name is Julie after him — Julius Hoffman.
  • The best committee I’ve been on is the Happiness Committee. I am Chair and sole member, happily bringing happiness to the whole team.
  • My world is an amazingly small one. For example, I once had a case where I realized that the opposing counsel from across the country is really a distant cousin. (We are now friends). Or someone I met (on a trip to the Amazon) texts me to say she is on a rooftop in Prague and ran into someone who knows me. 
 

And There’s More…

Awards

  • 2022 one of the “Top 50 Women Lawyers in Illinois” by SuperLawyers.
  • 2022 “Women in Law” – BestLawyers.
  • 2019 “Notable Gen X Leader In Law” by Crain’s Chicago Business
  •  One of the “Most Influential Women Attorneys in Chicago” by Crain’s Chicago Business magazine – 2017
  • One of the top 11 federal jury verdicts in Illinois – 2017
  • Best Lawyers in America – Commercial Litigation – 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020
  • Leading Lawyer in Commercial Litigation, Civil Rights/Constitutional Law and Civil Appellate Law – LeadingLawyers.com – 2018
  • Top 50 Women Lawyers in Illinois – SuperLawyer Magazine
  • “40 Illinois Attorneys Under Forty To Watch” Law Bulletin Publishing Company – 2005

Affiliations

  • Certified Arbitrator – American Arbitration Association
  • Fellow, College of Law Practice Management
  • Fellow – American Bar Foundation
  • Founder – Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law
  • Member – WOMP – Women’s Office Managing Partners Group and Women Owned Law
  • Advisory Board – Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession
  • Dean’s Advisory Council – DePaul College of Law
  • Advisory Board Member, Novus Law

Speaking, Writing & Press Coverage:

  • Featured on Episode #1 of the Advisory Board from Casetext: “The Legal Economy After COVID” – May 2020
  • Featured in the “Secret Sauce of Marketing” podcast – 2019
  • Conference 2019: Panelist – “There’s Something Lurking in the Shadows: the Growing Disruption in the Legal Market and the Business Development Opportunities” (Chicago)
  • Featured in 2-part Bloomberg Law series  about Alternative Fee Arrangements (June 2019) – Part 1, Part 2
  • Speaker: Hill’s 2019 Pet Nutrition Recent Graduate Retreat – “Thinking Outside the Barks” – Memphis, TN
  • Panelist – Women of Legal Tech 2019 – “New Legal Services Delivery Models”
  • Speaker – ABA Tech Show 2019 – “Reconsidering the Billable Hour”
  • Keynote: “Here.Us.Roar” – Tennessee Lawyer’s Association for Women -Empowerment Conference (Nashville, 2018)
  • Law Firm Offers Second Opinions for Clients – Illinois State Bar Journal
  • Building A Better Law Firm Takes Tech Collaborators – Nicole Auerbach & Patrick Lamb – ABA Law Journal Magazine
  • A Worthy Journey Defies All Maps” – Keynote address – U.S. District Court of Oregon
  • ReInvent Law Silicon Valley  – “Tick Tock, Why Women Should Bash the Clock!