How community involvement can – and will – change the perception of your law firm
Community involvement is a pivotal part of how your law firm is perceived. However these days there are a wide variety of ways that attorneys can put purpose before profit by reaching out and giving back. These efforts fall under the category of corporate social responsibility or CSR.
CSR is a broader business practice that involves all the ways your brand participates in initiatives that benefit society. The most successful companies in the world include some form of CSR as a core value. For a law practice, this could incorporate traditional pro bono work, but modern CSR is much more diverse and should be something that’s increasingly threaded throughout a practice, from hiring practices to expectations for partners.
In fact, CSR may be a much larger part of your brand perception than you realize. It can impact how future hires view working at your firm; what local clients know and share about your practice; and how the community regards the reputation of your attorneys and legal brand as a whole. A strong CSR program also has the ability to:
- set you apart from other firms
- “humanize” your brand
- keep your lawyers top-of-mind
Other bonus benefits of CSR initiatives include helpful tax write-offs; marketing traction through backlinks online, which helps SEO; and earned media when your good deeds get picked up as a local or national news story. The point is CSR is about far more than just writing a check to charity or performing pro bono work, and it will only help your law firm’s marketing efforts.
Unfortunately the legal industry has been one of the slower industries to adopt social responsibility and really take advantage of all that CSR has to offer. But that also means that law firms that start now or beef up community involvement could quickly get a leg up on competitors who have failed to properly leverage social responsibility initiatives.
As we’ve mentioned, CSR should be viewed as an important responsibility, but not a burden. When firms infuse each aspect of legal work—recruiting, generating leads, branding, marketing, networking, etc.—with a sense of social responsibility, the “tasks” become more fun and less work. Morale and job satisfaction often increases with CSR, along with more individual motivation and commitment to the firm. When attorneys feel more connected to a community, both inside and outside of the firm, the whole proposition becomes a win-win. The organizations that achieve the most success with giving back to society, or improving the quality of life in society, use these themes as an underlying model in everything they do.
Not only do the benefits of CSR far outweigh its drawbacks, social responsibility practices are going to be nearly mandatory for any business that wants to stay relevant going forward. Trends are predicting that this “intersection” of business and society, in fact, will be the most important aspect of the brands of the future. Clients, employees and partners are demanding that companies look beyond their bottom lines, showing there’s some higher purpose over profits.
In fact stats are showing that American consumers will pick brands tied to a good cause over those that aren’t, if the price and quality of the products appear the same. Likewise college graduates, part of the massive socially minded millennial generation, are increasingly interested in working for companies that put an emphasis on social values. In effect, people are placing a premium on businesses with socially and environmentally responsible products and services. Brands that don’t pick up on this evolution of social responsibility risk becoming irrelevant, and in certain industries, maybe even obsolete.
So if you haven’t already started down the path of building social responsibility into your law firm there’s no time like the present.
What does CSR look like?
In the past lawyers might have done some pro bono work and written a few checks to charitable causes, but today CSR is much more diverse. Ideally it involves all employees and many aspects of community and the environment, not to mention how law firms market softy around these efforts. The end goal with CSR is to provide more value to the communities lawyers serve. Related initiatives can include volunteering, employee-driven initiatives, monthly events, hands-on community service, environmental issues, in-house sustainability, etc.
Another way to consider organizing social responsibilities is to categorize efforts by:
- Social capital: The economic value or networks of relationships and connections between individuals and entities
- Human capital: The skills, knowledge and experience possessed by an individual or population, viewed in terms of their value or cost to an organization
- Business practices & innovation: How CSR is built into every level of your practice and how it can be leveraged to attract new employees
- Leadership: How partners or leaders invest their own time in CSR, how they talk about the responsibilities to those they mentor and how they practice what they preach, even the way they conduct themselves when practicing law
How can Law Firms implement CSR?
One of the easiest ways to begin incorporating more firm-wide social responsibility efforts and themes is to ask some basic questions:
- What are some obvious volunteer/networking opportunities in the community?
- What can we do internally to nurture this cause and encourage people to shift to a mindset of giving back?
- What global, national and/or local causes are important to leadership and employees? (You could take a poll.)
- What local organizations are a good fit for our practice?
- What amount of time, resources and people can we dedicate to CSR now? What’s a reasonable goal over the first year?
The next step is to pinpoint some opportunities and see what rises to the top for your specific law firm, practice areas, employees and local community. Here are some areas to brainstorm:
- Brand positioning & reputation
- Talent recruitment & retention
- Employee engagement
- Health & wellbeing
- Work-life balance
- Gender & ethnic diversity
- Communicating core values to clients
- Access to legal advice and services
- Environmental & sustainability issues
- Annual events, campaigns & causes
- Charitable donations & financial contributions
The third step is to for law firms to learn how to market appropriately around CSR, both online and off. There is a fine line between sharing your social values and efforts with the public appropriately and looking like you’re cashing in on charity. There are some subtle yet effective ways to leverage all the social capital you’ve built for the good of all. Often it just means karma kicks in: a news outlet sees a positive story in what you’re doing; a client is referred to you through new networking opportunities that CSR efforts open; or an engaged employee steps up with new business inspired by his or her fresh investment in the firm.
Aren’t there conflicts of interest with CSR?
Law is one industry in particular where sometimes the best social and environmental core values and intentions get pitted against tricky clients and cases. Do policies around CSR play a part in determining which cases your firm will take? How do ethics and reputation impact who lawyers choose to work with going forward?
This can certainly be a gray area for law firms, and there seems to be no set formula for what works best. Potential conflicts of interest will depend on the type of law you practice and where leadership feels comfortable drawing the line.
Corporate social responsibility is a huge buzzword in the business world. If your attorneys aren’t starting to think about how to institute CSR and market around those efforts, maybe it’s time for some advice from the law firm marketing pros at Network Affiliates. We can provide a free evaluation of your CSR campaigns and where you can take your law practice in the future. Call us today (888) 461-1016