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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 woman-owned, new model firm, with Pat Lamb.

We are no strangers to edges – even precipitous ones. In 2008, Pat and I started 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. Now, more than a decade later, AFAs are commonplace. But like all edge species, we evolve. Our new target — the delivery of legal services.  Enter ElevateNext.

Why Did We Create ElevateNext?  Customers want solutions and they prefer to get those solutions from a one-stop-shop.  Most traditional lawyers are not aware of what is happening in the legal industry today. They have a vague understanding that the work law firms handled ten years ago is disappearing quickly, but most assume it is now being handled in-house.  They don’t realize that systematically, law companies (while some refer to these as “alternative service providers,” they are no longer “alternative” and “law company” is the more appropriate word, we think) have not only taken over an incredible amount of work from both law firms and legal departments, but that they will continue to do so, transforming what is today a $2B market into a $55B market by 2025 according to recent studies. And, what law companies are carving off is not just “back office work”.  Law companies are handling every aspect of legal service delivery imaginable – from legal operations, document review, project management, consulting, technology design, AI, automation, and staffing, and doing so at a substantially lower cost than law firms or even the in-house model. The best law companies have become solution design specialists, creating systems, processes and, in many cases, staffing to make law departments and law firms more effective.

In the U.S., what law companies have not been doing (because regulators have said they cannot) is handling “the restricted practice of law.” That is, those things that must be done by someone with a law license, like going to court, taking depositions, handling M&A deals, etc. As a result, the two ecosystems – “law company” + “law firm” have been wholly separate, with no one attempting to bridge what turns out to be a not-so-big gap.  As a result, in the past, when legal departments hired a law company, the law company could not do much with the biggest culprit of expense and inefficiency — outside counsel spend.  Until now.

We formed ElevateNext (the law firm) to sit alongside Elevate Services (the law company) so collectively, we can give customers the single solution they want. ElevateNext handles all of the restricted practice of law, and together with Elevate, everything else as well.  In building this new (woman owned) model firm, in one fell swoop, we scaled to a 1200 employee, global law firm backed by technology and operational expertise.  We chose Elevate because we came to believe it was the best law company, and, like us, it wanted to solve problems for its customers (who are law departments and law firms) in a way that complied with the regulations while providing a full spectrum of solutions in one place.

The Edge:   So, our  “edge effect” is at this intersection of law firm + law company.  We believe this will be the go-to model for the legal ecosystem in the future — an amazingly unique habitat for the benefit of clients.  A single place where law departments  can get everything they want, and most importantly, everything they deserve, to lower costs, create efficiencies and not sacrifice quality.  As a “new model” firm — we also don’t shy away from working with law firms, as we have seen that the combo of ElevateNext  + Elevate can be the differentiator that traditional law firms trying to compete in today’s legal arena need. So this is the new edge – the place where complete solutions (including those that involve the practice of law) can be designed and implemented.  

The typical bio stuff:  I’m a litigator.  I spent the first 15 years of my career as a BigLaw partner in Chicago before starting Valorem Law Group in 2008.  At Valorem, we went from being a 4-person start up to being named “One of the 22 Best at AFAs” by BTI Consulting in 2016.  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 and fashioning workable solutions. Strategy is my favorite part, creativity is probably my biggest strength.  Though I adore lawyering, building new legal models and slaying 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. I was recently 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” — both, huge honors.  I’m thrilled  that on this new path, we walk alongside many other outside-the-box-ers and with amazing ElevateNext and Elevate teammates. Collectively, we will continue to swing our machetes until the edge, is simply a happy valley for all. 

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

  • One of the “Most Influential Women Attorneys in Chicago” by Crain’s Chicago Business magazine – 2017
  • Best Lawyers in America – Commercial Litigation – 2017, 2018, 2019
  • 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:

  • LSSO RainDance 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!