Giving and Getting: How Law Firms Benefit from Their Community Service Programs

Those of us lucky enough to belong to a law firm with a strong commitment to community service appreciate the opportunities such a culture affords. A firm that values the common good often provides structured volunteer programs that provide support and resources designed to make it easy for its attorneys and staff to give back to our communities. It's a win for us, the volunteers, certainly. But it's also a win for the firm. Law firm volunteer programs create opportunities to meld relationships that can have positive effects on both a firm’s culture and its bottom line.

Volunteer committees instill a sense of pride in giving back, and they provide a point of shared interest in working together for the common good. They also signal, both internally and to the community at large, a culture of caring, which make employees feel good about the firms in which they work. Additionally, these committees encourage attorneys and staff to pull together as a team in new ways and to form working relationships beyond the typical attorney/non-attorney dynamic that is characteristic of many firms.

Working as a team on a meaningful effort means spending a great deal of time together sharing ideas and solving problems. Whether we're brainstorming at a planning meeting or helping out together at a nonprofit facility, the conversations we have with our colleagues within a community service initiative build trust, respect, and rapport.

That paves the way not only for better working relationships in the office but also for potential opportunities to cross-sell among lawyers. Attorneys, who are used to counting the minutes of each conversation during the workday, are free to get to know their colleagues in the comparatively relaxed setting of a community service project.

I spoke to one attorney who felt encouraged to collaborate with, and refer work to, a colleague he'd met during a volunteer activity -- primarily because that activity had given the attorney a chance to learn more about his colleague's practice and to organically establish familiarity and trust. This new relationship will potentially enable the attorney to better serve his clients by expanding the types of services and solutions he can offer via his colleagues.

A strong volunteer program can also attract quality recruits. A partner at a Baltimore firm told me that applicants have cited his firm's service-oriented culture as a big draw in deciding to which firms they would apply. In this way, a culture of volunteerism serves as informal vetting to ensure the firm attracts recruits who share its values and who have the drive to form relationships in the community, and by extension, the marketplace.

Speaking of relationships and the marketplace, a law firm that's active in its community often enjoys greater access to community, government, and business leaders. Volunteering  necessarily involves coordinating with the heads of various organizations and agencies. These interactions offer lawyers the opportunity to network with individuals who are influential locally - and, perhaps, well-connected beyond the local market.

Of course, these points aren't top of mind while we're in the volunteering trenches. We give back because it's the right thing to do. It's rewarding. It's fun. We can make a difference. All of those thing are true and important. But community service is also an investment, and it's important for firms to understand and leverage the opportunities it presents.

By Gina Eliadis, Content Manager at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC for the July/August 2017 LMA Mid-Atlantic Region Newsletter



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