How Can Law Firms Responsibly Voice Social Concern
While “activist” might not be the first word most attorneys would use to identify themselves or their firms, engaging in matters critical to our time has become almost necessary for a brand’s survival. Today, most businesses – and that includes law firms – are taking social, cultural, and political stands that would have been unthought of just a few short years ago.
From police brutality to racial injustice to immigration and climate change, organizations are being called upon to draw their lines in the sand and declare and stance on a long list of divisive issues. And now, law firms are adding their voices.
The Age of Corporate Social Justice and Responsibility
Giving back to the community is nothing new. For decades, corporations have dedicated themselves to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, and for good reason. Research shows that companies with effective volunteer and philanthropic efforts are more profitable than those without.
But businesses have traditionally taken a neutral stance on political and controversial matters – until now. Both consumers and employees are raising the bar on what they expect from the businesses they hire and work for.
The past year has done nothing but accelerate the public’s idea that brands have a greater responsibility to take a stand on political and social matters. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the racial justice movement, and the U.S. election, a new form of corporate social justice is emerging, where businesses can lend their voices and resources to groups that are disadvantaged or harmed by society.
And aren’t lawyers uniquely trained and positioned to do just that? As professionals with knowledge of the law, attorneys and their law firms can use their skills and resources to further important causes and advocate for change.
Considerations for Law Firms Engaging in Social Activism
When the world around you seems to be on fire, there is a certain danger in taking a “business as usual” approach. In other words, not taking a stand is, in itself, making a statement.
With some groups, that will be heard loud and clear. One study revealed that two-thirds of consumers want brands to take a stand on important issues. So, if you haven’t done this yet, how do you fill that gap?
- Walk the Talk
You don’t have to wait for the next big controversy to start advocating for what is just and right. But, before you take a stand, make sure your own house is in order.
Statistically, law firms are some of the least diverse organizations. If you plan to advocate for immigrants’ rights for example, take a look at the diversity within your organization first. Some of the programs meant to improve diversity within the legal industry include JOIP, Year Up, Street Law, and Lavender Law Conference & Career Fair.
- Encourage Your Team to Get Involved
Work with your team at every level to create some missions and policies that will make it easier for members of your firm to be more socially and politically active. Simply by volunteering their time to causes they care about, members of your team can be some of your biggest brand ambassadors.
For example, global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright gave employees time off this year to attend protests. National firm Katten Muchin Rosenman created a “Day of Reflection,” a paid day off encouraging staff to engage in a meaningful cause. Other firms are providing free legal advice or services to people arrested during peaceful protests.
- Be Honest About Any Past Missteps
Maybe your firm hasn’t been the most inclusive in the past. Or perhaps you supported a cause or candidate that you now view as a mistake. If you’re going to take a stand on any social or political issues and want the respect of your employees and clients, you need to be honest.
People will know if you’re just paying lip service to something because it is the “cause du jour.” This is part of walking that talk.
- Thoroughly Understand the Movements You Support
Before you jump into a movement, be sure you understand it first. What might seem like a simple enough issue on the surface may be much more complex once you get all the information.
The leaders of any movement can make mistakes, but social activism works best when it is well-organized. For example, if you want to participate in a social media campaign that makes a statement, collect the critical information so that your efforts will have the biggest impact.
- Communicate Internally First
Before you release statements to the public or decide to support a cause that might be sensitive or controversial, speak with your team first. They deserve to have input on your firm’s social and political activism choices.
Be available to staff to answer questions about your firm’s plan. No one should feel caught off guard by a brand’s public communication. Instead, they should be ready to stand behind your choices because they helped create the strategy.
- Align Your Activism With Your Firm’s Values
Every firm should have a mission statement that drives its interactions with clients and the public at large. Discuss your firm’s mission with staff at every level to see how you can put your stated values into action.
For example, it’s not uncommon to have core values relative to inclusivity. Are there social causes you can support to make your community more inclusive? If you value the environment, make sure your activism and support of any political issues align with those values.
- Create a Resource for Staff and the Public
Whether you decide to wade into the trenches on an issue or simply voice your support, you can also serve as a source of vital information for the public. Instead of listing items that are subject to change, give your readers some valuable e-sources.
As lawyers, you are in a unique position to help both clients and the public at large bring about meaningful change. No matter where your firm stands on certain issues, getting your message across to the public can be challenging at best.
If you would like help communicating your firm’s stance and values as well as the action steps you are taking, contact Sundown Marketing Group at (800) 649-1764. We specialize in helping law firms reach their greatest potential through creative legal marketing solutions.