The roots of the National Employment Law Council were sown in 1995, when Randall Robertson, in-house counsel for MCI (a predecessor to Verizon Wireless) met three of his outside labor and employment attorneys for lunch in Chicago during an annual meeting of the National Bar Association. Martin Wickliff (now a partner with Cozen O’Connor in Houston), Grady Murdock (now a partner with Littler Mendelson in Chicago), and Darrell S. Gay (now a partner with Arent Fox in New York) each ran their own minority-owned law firms at the time and agreed with Robertson that there needed to be an organization of outside and in-house minority labor and employment practitioners to facilitate the enrichment of the minority bar representing management in labor and employment issues.
The four founders began recruiting members to make their vision a reality, including Naomi Young (now a partner with Ballard Spahr in Los Angeles) and Gary Lafayette (Now a partner with Laffayette & Kumagai in San Francisco). They also began creating a list of leading minority practitioners in the field and meeting periodically until, in 1997, the National Employment Law Council (“NELC”) held its inaugural conference in Oak Brook, Illinois. More than 90 experienced labor and employment attorneys attended that first conference.
Today, NELC’s membership has grown to over 1,100 of the leading labor and employment defense attorneys in the United States, drawn from majority and minority-owned law firms, corporate law departments, and government agencies. Conference speakers regularly include experts in the field, including general counsel, human resources personnel, federal judges and officials from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Labor, and Department of Justice. Recognizing the need to facilitate the success of younger practitioners not yet eligible for NELCE membership, the NELC Academy (then called the NELC Pipeline Program) was launched in 2011 for promising minority attorneys with less than four years of labor and employment defense experience. Admission to the Academy has become highly competitive as Academy Fellows obtain advanced skills training during the annual conference and exposure to NELC’s national network of experiences practitioners.
In addition to the annual conference, which many NELC members consider their “go to” conference for staying abreast of cutting edge developments in labor and employment law, NELC maintains a searchable database of members for referral purposes and hosts regional receptions in major cities across the United States to encourage networking among the membership. Additional membership programs and benefits are being developed as NELC continues to evolve and grow.