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Jason Brown spent the past 7 1/2 years handling compliance matters, contract negotiations and litigation as director of legal at PepsiAmericas Inc. Now he’s taking on a new challenge — convincing Corporate America to hire women- and minority-owned law firms. Brown has been named executive director of the National Association of Minority and Women Owner Law Firms (NAMWOLF). He was active with group during his time at Pepsi, and hopes in the newly created position to raise its profile. The National Law Journal spoke with Brown about his new position and the recent grim news about minority gains — or lack thereof — at large law firms. His answers have been edited for length. Q: What is NAMWOLF’s mission? A: NAMWOLF was started in 2001 by a group of law firms — minority- and women-owned law firms — that were attempting to create an organization that would help promote the idea of diversity through the utilization of women and minority-owned law firms. Much of the talk about diversity has been focused on hiring at large law firms and trying to get minority and women partners to be relationship partners. NAMWOLF is a little different because the focus is on achieving diversity by going to the source and hiring directly firms that are owned, managed and run by women and minorities. Q: What attracted you to this position? A: PepsiAmericas has been a partner of NAMWOLF’s since 2003. Through that relationship, I became very involved with the group. As NAMWOLF has grown — and we have grown quite a bit over the past nine years — I’ve had a great passion for the organization. I see the great opportunity for us to move on to bigger and better things in the next decade. We recognized that there was a need for someone in the executive director role who could focus the organization and reach out and share a common interest with our in-house partners. We needed somebody who had a passion for the mission of diversity, and I saw that that was me. I jumped at the opportunity to be considered to lead this organization. Q: What are your priorities and goals in this new role? A: One of the primary goals I have right now is to spread the word about NAMWOLF to those corporations that are still somewhat confused about what we’re all about and our mission. A lot of folks are a little in the dark about the fact that it’s not just a group of law firms attempting to get business. We’re a partnership between law firms and interested companies who work together, hand-in-hand, to try to elevate diversity in the profession. I really want to get out there on the road, so to speak, and spread the word and understanding of what NAMWOLF is all about to corporations and to other minority- and women-owned law firms that might seek membership. Q: What’s happening on the diversity front at law firms? A: I think what we’re seeing right now is that although we made some incremental strides in the beginning, when we were focused on the issue, the intention and the purpose has yet to be fulfilled. It’s kind of discouraging, and hard to believe that intention is going to be fulfilled — meaning that the door is going to open wider and there’s going to be more opportunities for women and minorities to take leadership positions at the largest law firms. I think there are opportunities out there — many firms are doing what they can to assist in that — but we just aren’t seeing results. To really promote diversity, you go to those who are entrepreneurs — those who are out there working hard on the front lines and have decided to step out on their own and create a thriving legal practice. Hire them. If the idea is to promote diversity within your corporation, we believe that is the most effective way to do it, instead of continuing to wait for those numbers to improve at law firms. That clearly isn’t happening. Q: How about women- and minority-owned law firms? What’s happening there? A: It really depends on the size of the law firm. Those that are established and have been around for quite some time are continuing to thrive. You will see there has been some consolidation here and there. You’re actually seeing some consolidation of minority- and women-owned law firms with other minority- and women-owned law firms to help boost the viability of that practice. There has also been more focus by Fortune 500 companies that are proactively looking at their supplier diversity goals and implementing those goals in the legal department, which hasn’t happened in the past. You find more minority- and women-owned law firms seeking accreditation as such. Because of that, you’re seeing a number of them thrive. Legal departments want to be a part of what their entire corporation is doing, and that is only benefiting minority- and women-owned law firms.

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