Kelly Culhane in Bloomberg Law: Women-Owned Business Certification

Culhane Meadows’ co-founder and managing partner, Kelly Culhane, was recently quoted in an article for Bloomberg Law, which discusses women-owned law firms seeking a ‘seat at the table’ via certifications.

Here are some key excerpts from the article:

At least a handful of organizations offer a process for certifying that a firm is women-owned. Certifiers review operating agreements, loan and other paperwork to ensure that women are at the helm. Women must account for at least 51% of a firm’s ownership and control in order for it to be certified.

The non-profit Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), for example, partners with 14 regional organizations to vet applicants. Certification opens the door for women-owned enterprises to connect with corporations seeking a wide range of services, including legal.

The council has around 450 company members, said Pat Birmingham, its senior vice president for marketing and technology.

The federal Census Bureau counts 400,000 women lawyers in the U.S., about 37% of the country’s attorneys. Women currently make up more than half (54%) of law school graduates, according to the American Bar Association, with more than 19,000 women graduating from accredited law schools in 2020.

Women account for nearly half of associates at the country’s 200 largest firms, according to a surveyby the National Association of Women Lawyers. Still, lucrative equity partnerships and leadership roles in Big Law remain hard to come by. That’s drawn some women lawyers to launch their own firms.

Certification offers an opportunity for small firms to get on the radar at major corporations as they look to steer away from legal teams that have traditionally been overwhelmingly white and male.

Kelly Rittenberry Culhane, managing partner of virtual firm Culhane Meadows, said the decade-old firm sought women-owned business certification through the WBENC.

The organization has certified 18,000 women businesses in a range of sectors, including law firms and legal services providers. Certification costs are tied to revenues, from $350 for firms with annual revenue under $1 million to $1,250 for those with revenue of $50 million and above.

Women-owned enterprises also can obtain certification to access federal contract set-asides. But women-owned law firms typically seek to be hired by corporations for specific legal matters rather than pursuing multi-million-dollar government contracts.

Culhane’s firm also joined another group that zeroes in on corporate legal work. The National Association of Minority & Women-Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) requires women-owned certified firms to have three practicing lawyers for membership, and helps connect qualified firms to corporate clients.

These organizations “get you a seat at the table,” said Culhane, a Dallas-based lawyer who spent nearly a decade at Akin Gump Hauer & Feld. Her 70-attorney firm represents the Kroger Company, among others. “We’ve grown a huge amount of relationships as result of work in NAMWOLF.”

Being certified is often the first step in a long process of cultivating contacts and convincing corporate legal chiefs to hire them.

“As well intended as corporations are, they stick with what is comfortable,” Culhane said, referring to the practice of general counsels hiring lawyers they know.

Read the entire article HERE to learn more.


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