To celebrate Black History Month, we are highlighting the black-owned law firms that participated in Harrity & Harrity’s 2022 Minority Firm Incubator 2.0 program!
Meet Arlene Neal, Founder & Managing Attorney at Neal Blibo, a black-owned, woman-owned law firm.
When asked about being a black-owned, woman-owned law firm, Arlene said, “I see a lot of black-owned firms and I see a lot of women-owned firms, but I don’t see a lot of the combination- black and woman-owned. And I’m thinking to myself, “Well, I gotta be proud!”
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Arlene Neal. I'm the founder and managing attorney at Neal Blibo. I started Neal Blibo in 2010, so I've had it running for about 15 years. Overall, I've been practicing since 1998. I started at a small practice, and then I went to a larger law firm. So my experience is in small, large, and now entrepreneurial practice.
What obstacles have you faced while getting into law, or starting your own firm, due to your race or background?
I remember when I first started, I was very conscious of my accent because I did not grow up in the US. So, I was very conscious of how I sounded. And maybe that's why I went into patent prosecution- because I didn't have to speak to people. And I remember one of my first mentors- I thought, we had a really great relationship when he was mentoring me. And then I got another position, and I told him that I was leaving the state and I was moving to the DC area. So, I told the new firm that they could call him. And [one day], I didn't realize that he was talking to them, but just as he was talking to them, I was walking into his office and he made the comment, "You know she's difficult to understand, right?" And that really shocked me because I didn't expect that he would go there. But I think that made me even more conscious of the way I sounded, particularly in a professional setting.
That was just something that I was concerned with when entering law. And like I said, I think it had an impact on my practice, because it made me go more towards the prosecution side. Maybe I wouldn't have been for litigation, but I think subconsciously, that had something to do with it.
Do you feel like being a woman brought on any obstacles that maybe you weren't expecting?
I feel like I see enough women in the profession and enough women doing well that I really never felt like being a woman was an obstacle. Actually, sometimes I think it's a plus! I got my first major client from a woman in IP connection at AIPLA. So I don't necessarily see it as something that I have to overcome. I know that the profession is primarily white male, but I think there's sufficient numbers as far as woman that can help each other out if we choose to.
What piece of advice would you give to others who want to follow this type of career path?
From the time I started working as an attorney, my spirit was always really entrepreneurial. So, even though I was in big law, a part of me always wanted to be on my own- to have autonomy and to make decisions for myself in the practice that I wanted to have.
And I have not regretted starting my own firm. I actually love it. During the tough times, when I've considered what my next steps should be, I would never get to a place of saying, "I'm gonna go back into a law firm." No. I will never stop trying to make the law firm that I wanted to make. So if that's something that somebody coming up wants to do, I'd say definitely go for it. Make sure to get training, whether it's from a small firm or a large firm. And once you feel like you have to training and you can do the work, you have to understand all the different aspects of business. Understand that sometimes you will have to do secretary work, so you will need to know how to do everything. I think it's like any small business, right? Small business owners have to wear many hats. And sometimes you can hand the hats over, but sometimes you have to put them on and do the work yourself. But that's the fun of it. That's the thing that makes it great. So I would definitely encourage anybody who wants to do this to do it. People are doing it and it's rewarding. You can make a good living and be happy. And the world is changing- now, you can have a firm that is completely remote, which wasn't the case when I started. You can make your own rules and if being in charge of your destiny is something that you want to do, I would definitely consider doing it.
What aspect of being a black-owned, women-owned law firm are you most proud of?
I see a lot of black-owned firms and I see a lot of women-owned firms, but I don't see a lot of the combination. And as I was thinking of this, I thought, "Well, I've got to be proud of that!"
I've done this for almost 15 years. I've served clients- from multinational companies to small companies. My clients love me, and you know what? That's something that I should say more. I'm a black woman. I'm out here running my own firm and it's great!
ABOUT MFI 2.0:
The Minority Firm Incubator 2.0 Program is Harrity’s 42-week program that provides the training and tools needed to propel female and minority-owned patent law firms, existing or yet to be launched, to the next level of success. The program includes free training & strategy classes, concluding with a pitch session with a panel of in-house IP attorneys. The MFI 2.0 is an integral part of Harrity’s ongoing diversity initiative to recruit, retain, and advance attorneys who will contribute to the diversity of the patent field.
When speaking on this program, Arlene says, “As a Managing Attorney, I am always seeking out the best practices in running my firm. The MFI program exposed me to new processes for managing my firm and also helped me to refine current processes.”
In November 2022, 7 minority-owned law firms graduated from the first iteration of this program after intensive law firm operations trainings from Harrity partners and pitches to a panel of in-house attorneys. You can learn more and apply to the 2024 program here.