In today’s social climate, law firms can’t be in business simply for the sake of earning profits. It’s important for firms to engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs that have a lasting impact on many of today’s social and economic challenges. Clients and prospects appreciate and look to work with firms that are playing an ethical and responsible part in the community. When it comes to CSR, it’s important to be committed to causes that have meaning and that may even be mutually beneficial for both the cause you’re supporting and your law firm. As a part of our annual report on law firm digital marketing, the Good2bSocial 2021 Social Law Firm Index, we found that now more than ever law firms are engaging in corporate activism and raising awareness for causes important to them. Here’s how to start participating in corporate social responsibility at your law firm:
Much like content and social media marketing, it’s essential to have a strategy when it comes to CSR. Your firm should not indiscriminately choose a cause to support, as it should be more of a conscientious decision. It may seem overwhelming to decide where to focus your effort because there is a multitude of non-profit organizations doing meaningful charitable work. However, it’s important to think about what your employees and clients are passionate about. 56% of consumers say that too many brands are using societal issues as a marketing ploy. So, do proper research and choose a cause that aligns with the values of your firm.
You may want to consider your practice areas or the niche industries you provide services for. What types of causes correlate with them? For example, if you work in immigration law it may make sense to engage in pro bono work for organizations that help immigrants. If you specialize in health law, you may want to partner with a hospital or health-related non-profit organization.
Research is important when deciding to partner with an organization. Ensure that they are credible and that your money and efforts will make a direct difference in your community.
What Can Your Firm Offer
The most effective law firm corporate social responsibility occurs when a firm understands what they excel at and use their expertise to help others. It’s always easy to donate money to a non-profit, but that’s not usually the most meaningful form of CSR. Having your firm’s employees directly involved with charity work will earn more respect from the public and provide a more personal story to tell on your social channels and blogs. It humanizes your law firm when lawyers take the time and make the effort to help others through volunteering.
Cause-related marketing is a business strategy that firms should be implementing especially as younger generations are increasingly socially responsible and aware. You shouldn’t abuse CSR as solely another marketing tool, but it can help potential clients understand the values of your firm and form connections. Be transparent about your CSR policy. Understand why you chose the causes you focus on and communicate this clearly to the public.
Many law firms may be unsure about engaging with social issues because they are not confident it will help. However, 62% of consumers believe organizations can help normalize social justice conversations through their marketing.
In turn, those who respect the same causes will respect your law firm. The exposure you give to the organization will gain donations for them, and any earned media from the organization will give your firm positive exposure.
It may seem obvious to become involved with your community and give back. However, CSR can cause challenges as well:
- Legal Issues – Before creating your law firm’s CSR policy, you must be aware of the legal regulations on cause-related marketing which vary by state. There are even specific rules on how businesses engage with charities.
- Controversy – When supporting social issues, there will always be at least a few individuals that may disagree, which is why you must be prepared for handling negative feedback. Your CSR policy should thoroughly address how to handle these situations and again put forth a strong, unyielding case for why your law firm supports what they do.
- Authenticity – Some firms engage in CSR simply because it looks good to the public and potential clients. This inauthenticity can be seen easily and will have a negative impact on your firm’s reputation. Law firm CSR should be transparent and lawyers should engage in activities they’re passionate about. Social responsibility should always focus on making a difference first, then the marketing benefits will come afterward.
How Top Law Firms Implemented CSR
Recent years have brought a lot of already existing inequities to the forefront in the media and in the minds of consumers. From the George Floyd murder to the rise in Asian hate crimes, many Americans felt the need to no longer stand idle in the face of inequality. This change was also reflected in the legal industry, as many law firms emphasized their commitment to improved diversity efforts through press releases, donated to BIPOC causes, increased their pro bono efforts, and showed support of the LGBTQ+ community.
Some firms even went above that. In 2020, Sheppard Mullin created multiple partnerships with racial justice organizations through its Inclusive Engagement Task Force. In 2021, nearly 50 firms and 17 Fortune 100 general counsels offered their pro bono programs in order to help Asian American communities with legal support as Asian hate crimes skyrocketed this past year.
Now as CSR becomes more of a normality, law firms should look for both new and existing ways to support causes they feel are important.
Corporate social responsibility in the legal industry has huge potential to have a positive impact on the lives of many individuals as well as the broader community. Your law firm CSR policy will be a statement of why and how you want to help the community while enhancing your reputation.
Whether your firm has been focused on giving back to the community for years or you’re interested in becoming involved in CSR initiatives, the first step is developing a well-thought out CSR strategy. Contact us today if you need help developing a purposeful CSR strategy.
Updated and originally published on Dec 26, 2017.