Cynics, begone. So much for all those glum predictions that the recession will put paid to law firms’ fancy corporate responsibility (CR) programmes.
In the past year we’ve seen Freshfields champion the cause of school governors, Clifford Chance launch an internal CR awards event and now Simmons is making CR an integral part of its three-year plan.
I can hear the objections already. Isn’t a law firm’s first duty to provide legal advice to clients rather than operate as an extension of social services?
Well, yes, but that’s a tad reductionist given how many clients want to see firms’ commitment in this area. Most organisations need an emotional pull to their business - particularly in the law, given that most lawyers start off as idealists wanting to make a difference. In fact, it has become a surprisingly powerful motivational tool in the workplace.
Simmons’ plans are astonishingly detailed. One of the more eyecatching ideas is having a handful of blogs a week from the partners involved. Obviously there is always a danger that they might come over a bit Martin Lukes, but I’ve seen four of the blogs so far and all avoid that terrible piety that occasionally afflicts worthy projects. Two of the blogs, by the way, were great and made me want to know much, much more, which I suppose is the point.
Clearly the scheme raises questions. How do you measure your CR impact? Can CR hours really be treated the same as billable hours given that firms are profit-making businesses? But what’s notable with Simmons is its old-fashioned talk of a moral obligation to do this. Furthermore, by removing logistical and organisational barriers from getting involved, the take-up is likely to be high.
CR has always been an integral part of our coverage at The Lawyer, but we want to take it a step further. We plan to go behind the scenes and explore the difference these projects make from the beneficiaries’ point of view. These could be Hackney pupils, aspiring musicians or would-be entrepreneurs.
There are some fantastic stories out there, many of which are genuinely inspiring. If your firm, department or chambers has some projects that you think we should cover, then get in touch.