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WER Fall 2019 Feature 1
Volume LXX, Issue II

In This Issue:
"Lawyers Making a Difference Through Community Service"

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Engaging the Greater Good:
How to Implement Community Service Projects
for Lawyers and Law Firms

By: Dr. SooJin Pate

Dr. SooJin Pate is a Diversity & Inclusion Specialist at Bowman and Brooke LLP.

   SooJin Pate

For many attorneys haunted by the ever-looming billable hour requirement, taking time to volunteer and engage in community service activities might be the last thing they are thinking about. But research has proven that participating in projects that are “bigger than yourself” promotes well-being and increases your sense of happiness. “Our lives are ‘fuller’ when we let go of our time, money, and energy for people and causes outside ourselves,” explains public policy expert Ryan Streeter in his article “What Motivates People to Participate in Civil Society.”[i]

But even for lawyers who know the benefits of volunteering, the rigorous schedule of a lawyer can be an impediment. So what can law firms and other organizations do to help mitigate some of the obstacles to volunteering and engaging with their community?

In a study on what drives people to not only volunteer but also become repeat volunteers, convenient scheduling and proof of impact were identified as the two main factors in spurring people to action.[ii] At Bowman and Brooke LLP, we have used this research to inform how we implement community service engagement.

First, we try to institutionalize participation in community service. We embed community service within the firm by encouraging all our staff and attorneys to take time to volunteer on certain days of the year. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a paid holiday for all firm employees. In honor of Dr. King, Bowman and Brooke organizes a firm-wide “Day of Service” where all 13 offices around the country participate in community engagement projects.

Our firm makes volunteering convenient not only by giving everyone the day off, but also by choosing organizations that are easily accessible in terms of location and parking. In addition, because most kids don’t have school, we volunteer at organizations that are family-friendly so that employees don’t have the extra hassle or expense of finding childcare.

Not only do we make participation in community service projects convenient, but we also choose projects that allowed volunteers to see the impact of their efforts. For example, in 2019, the Detroit office helped organize a food drive at Gleaners Community Food Bank, where the food they were packing was distributed to families the same day. The Minneapolis office reorganized the cluttered food shelves at Loaves and Fishes so that items were more easily accessible. In both cases, volunteers experienced the gratification and pleasure that came from filling hungry bellies.

In 2020, our firm is planning to use our community service projects as an opportunity to strengthen and nurture client relationships by volunteering for programs our clients find meaningful and by organizing joint community service projects where we can volunteer with clients for a common cause. 

For other organizations and law firms trying to mitigate the obstacles to volunteering, I suggest the following:

1) Institutionalize a “Day of Service” at your firm or organization to make it convenient for everyone to participate. By doing so, leadership sends a strong message about the importance of “giving back.” It also builds community among staff and attorneys.

2) Make it convenient in scheduling and in location.

3) Make it family-friendly to minimize the additional stress of participants needing to find childcare.

4) Make it efficient by partnering with organizations that have a clear purpose and task, so that volunteers can complete the task in the allotted time.

5) Make it impactful by partnering with organizations where volunteers can see the impact of their engagement and leave with a sense of accomplishment.

There are many wonderful organizations in the Twin Cities that are convenient, family-friendly, efficient, and impactful. I can personally recommend The Sheridan Story, an organization that tackles food insecurity by providing meals to school-aged children (primarily during weekends and school breaks). My daughter and I recently volunteered at this organization through a school-sponsored community service project and felt a great sense of accomplishment after only an hour there.

Attorneys and law firms should take advantage of organizations that are doing their part to make community service easy, fun, and impactful. It’s a win-win-win all around: a win for the participants, a win for the individuals who are direct recipients of the service, and a win for the larger community–of which we are all a part.

I hope you’ll find the above recommendations helpful in making 2020 the year of community service at your firm or organization. You won’t regret it.

 


[i] Ryan Streeter, “What Motivates People to Participate in Civil Society,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, July 3, 2018, https://ssir.org/articles/entry/what_motivates_people_to_participate_in_civil_society

[ii] Janna Finch, “Survey: What Motivates People to Become Repeat Volunteers?,” Software Advice, April 28, 2017, https://www.softwareadvice.com/resources/survey-what-motivates-people-to-become-repeat-volunteers/

 

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