The COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. election, and the racial justice movement that entered the national dialogue after the murder of George Floyd are just some of the dominant issues facing people in 2020, and the urgency of all has accelerated the public perception that businesses have a moral responsibility to take a stand on social and political matters.
Lawyers advocate for justice in diverse areas, from immigration to the environment to tax policy to civil rights. As knowledgeable professionals, attorneys are natural leaders who can use their positions to further important causes and press for needed change.
A study published by SproutSocial reports that one-third of consumers expect businesses to weigh in on social and political matters. And according to Reuters, 50 percent expect companies to take immediate and direct action to address national and global issues.
This is particularly true with Millennials, who have grown into the largest consumer demographic in the U.S., and Gen Z, which is not far behind. To many in these demographics, not taking a stand is a stand in itself.
Here are six ways your firm can positively participate in political and social movements that will enhance your reputation and standing with clients.
1. Act proactively to achieve your firm’s goals for inclusion and purpose-driven action.
You do not have to, nor should you, wait for an active controversy or social movement to act on your firm’s values.
Jumping into an issue reactively as it unfolds can backfire spectacularly, as a majority of the population, particularly Millennials and members of Gen Z, expect service providers to walk the talk. People are unlikely to be swayed by a nice quote or pretty graphic that does not reflect the reality at your firm.
Make space for open dialogue about what issues are important to your attorneys, staff and clients, and think creatively about how you can act to forward the priorities that emerge from your conversations.
2. Encourage volunteerism within your own team.
Work with stakeholders to write and adopt policies that make it easier for your team members to be politically active.
Your attorneys and staff can be some of your best brand ambassadors simply by volunteering for causes that are important to them. More importantly, the work in which your team participates can help create meaningful change and improve workplace morale.
For example, it is CLM’s official policy to encourage political action and volunteerism. In addition to matching employee charitable contributions, CLM offers two paid activism days team members can use to work on a political campaign or at a polling location. It also provides three paid volunteer days for work done with a registered tax-exempt charity or government organization.
3. Be honest about any work you have to do yourself.
Transparency is the key to successfully boosting your firm’s reputation while engaging in meaningful action. As a team of respected professionals, you have the power and privilege to act as a voice on behalf of issues important to you and your clients and to be leaders inspiring others to participate in the movements you support.
However, if your firm, for example, makes diversity and inclusion a centerpiece of its brand, you must be honest with the public about any work you need to do to increase diversity within your own space. Authentically owning a cause and your part in acting on real solutions is considerably more powerful than simply paying lip-service to social justice. (And people notice.)
4. Participate in causes that are in line with your core values.
Your firm should have a mission statement that drives the way everyone interacts with clients, the press and the public generally. Discuss this mission with attorneys and staff to determine how you can best live it through action.
Can you, for example, make your office greener and support pro-environmental values? Are there causes to which you can donate that are in line with your purpose? Have you implemented intake and hiring policies that promote inclusion?
Remember, before making any public statement about sensitive issues, have an open dialogue with attorneys and staff about your firm’s priorities and positions. Answer questions about how your firm will respond to and participate in movement-based issues so everyone can respond to publicity with one voice.
5. Be a source for helpful resources.
Your firm can help support important movements by being a conduit for information. You do not have to have all the answers on your own, but you can amplify the voices of those who are in the trenches.
6. Avoid drive-by lawyering.
According to a 2015 paper from the University of California Hastings College of the Law, attorneys who attempt to aid social movements can unintentionally do more harm than good. While movement lawyers can play a powerful role in positive change, they can also interfere in efforts if they do not do the research and understand the movement’s context. The paper encourages firms to refrain from acting paternalistically toward grassroots leadership and avoid promoting their own interests in cases where those interests conflict with the larger goals of the movement.
Such firm-centric participation can lead to advocacy of tactics that are inappropriate or poorly timed.
Instead, make a commitment to invest where your firm can do the most good, which may be through hiring, donations, pro bono work or other actions on which you work collaboratively with community leaders.
Is your firm ready to speak out on politics or social justice movements?
Custom Legal Marketing partners with clients to develop unique marketing strategies, which include obtaining positive coverage concerning sensitive issues. From social media marketing to press relations, our team will focus on boosting your firm’s reputation and bottom line with tailored messages that adhere to your core values.