Companies are increasingly subscribed to the corporate social responsibility principle. CSR is based on the belief that a demonstration of environmental considerations, human rights, social development and the welfare of their employees can make a company more profitable. And if not more profitable, at least one better place to work.
Law firms can learn from business experience to create their own social responsibility programs. Such programs can help law firms to do well by doing well. They can strengthen the company's reputation and market position. They can help the company identify with culture and CSR activities at customers and potential customers. They can help attorneys and staff find more meaning in their work and improve themselves as people.
In words from the Karma Committee on Social Responsibility at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck: Please. Be generous. Be worried. Donate time. Donate effort. Donate money. Find only one reason and give. You will quickly discover giving sheep too.
A panel discussion about how law firms can learn about CSR and introducing some of its features into their own models was sponsored by Rocky Mountain's chapter in the Legal Marketing Association. The program was held May 8 at Maggiano's Little Italy in downtown Denver.
Panel participants included Sarah Hogan, Vice President of Barefoot PR; Bruce DeBoskey, lawyer and founder of The DeBoskey Group, focusing on philanthropic counseling; Joyce White, Community Investment Adviser and Head of Encana Cares Foundation, Encana Oil & Gas (USA); and Amy Venturi, Head of Community Relations and Karma at Brownstein. Moderator was Cori Plotkin, president of Barefoot PR.
At law firms, the product is the people - lawyers and support staff who provide high quality legal services. It's an easy fit. There are many ways this product can contribute time, talent and tax to socially responsible activities.
Social responsibility: Focus and strategy
The social responsibility of the law firm is about making a difference in society and the profession, and within a company. Even the best efforts will not have any effect if the spread is too thin. You can not maximize the value of your contributions or tell if your bet is too diluted. To determine how to effectively invest their resources, a law firm needs social responsibility and a strategy.
Responsibility for social responsibility must be valid. Law firms and other devices should always avoid green laundry - telling a story that is ambitious, but not really true. Know yourself. Let your companies unique culture and skills decide which efforts to drive and who to avoid.
When you review your culture, do not limit yourself to partner efforts. Law firms are small communities, almost like families. Every effort to define culture and social responsibility should not only represent the interests of lawyers but also the interests of all levels of support staff. Efforts must be meaningful throughout the company. The benefits of recruiting, retaining and satisfying employees can be remarkable.
DeBoskey outlined three types of community engagement and explained his belief that a good social responsibility plan contains parts of all three.
In a traditional model, an organization randomly returns to society when it is set - as a good citizen rather than for some strategic purposes. In a socially responsible model, these efforts are tailored to the company's ability - as lawyers' legal skills. All nonprofit organizations need legal advice.
Its most sophisticated includes a social responsibility program that uses your core product - legal services - as a tool for social change. Volunteer with organizations such as the Institute for Advancement of the American Law System at the University of Denver, or the Rocky Mountain Childrens Law Center.
A strong focus makes it much easier to make decisions. Encana, for example, focuses its charitable strategy on issues surrounding its product - natural gas. Brownstein will only donate money if the request comes from a client, or if one of the lawyers is a member of the organization and on the board.
Law firms looking for additional advice can find valuable resources within the Corporate Community Investment Network. CCIN is a union for professionals whose primary responsibility is to manage Community investment programs in a profitable business setting.
Many companies and a few law firms have actually created separate foundations for many of their rewarding. One reason comes with more restrictions and different taxation methods. However, as units with their own lives, the reason is more likely than single efforts to continue a useful existence.