Law firms have been giving back to their local community for decades. Their highly skilled staff give them a unique opportunity to provide legal advice through pro bono work and their support of community organisations often long predates the acronym CSR!
Law firms are made up of more than simply fee-earning lawyers. A modern organisation also includes many support professionals in marketing, IT and other areas of the business. Between them, they’ve got a wealth of experience and expertise that can be of great benefit to community organisations.
The key to making volunteering successful and engaging at a law firm – as with any organisation – is to make sure people are both aware of what volunteering allowance they’re entitled to and feel comfortable enough to step out of the office for a day to use it.
To achieve this, it’s important to map out the current programmes your organisation is running and understand where volunteering can slot in.
Don’t feel too daunted by the tasks that lie ahead. Sending a rocket to the moon takes meticulous planning and a lot of mathematics (probably), all you need for a volunteering programme is a clear strategy, regular communication and a bit of patience!
To help you along the way, we’ve drawn up three case studies which are fantastic examples of how to launch and expand a volunteering programme at a law firm.
Fostering a Culture of Community Engagement from the Outset – CMS | Promoting Volunteering Within the Frameworks of Life in a Law Firm – Weil Gotshal & Manges | Building Engagement in Employee Volunteering – Ashurst LLP | Using Benefacto to Make it Easy
We’ve found that encouraging employees to volunteer during the first week of starting the job is a fantastic way to ensure that everyone’s aware of your firm’s volunteering policy from the get go.
– CMS Trainees volunteering in 2016
For many people the prospect of volunteering for the first time can seem quite daunting. It’s a step out of people’s comfort zone and daily routine and into an unknown world. But after heading out once, we often see people returning to use their volunteering days year after year.
Seeing the positive impact your skills and knowledge can have on others not only helps those in your community, but also leaves a lasting impression that will make you want to help out again.
Specifically, having new recruits volunteer early on ingrains the giving ethos of your firm into employees’ day-to-day actions and gives them the chance to meet their new colleagues and bond with them outside of the office.
As CMS’s Sophie Breuil observes in our video about meaningful volunteering from 2015, getting new recruits involved in volunteering from the outset can also help CSR teams identify future champions of their community work.
We’ve a great article on organising volunteering days for new trainees.
As a legal CSR practitioner, your goal should be to make your volunteering activities as highly regarded by your colleagues as your firm’s pro bono work. Not least, because it gives non-lawyers in the firm a chance to contribute their expertise and time to the community.
As Rob Powell, Head of Pro Bono and CSR at law firm Weil, Gotshal and Manges observes, “It’s been a real pleasure unlocking the skills of our HR, IT, Marketing and Facilities teams into the community.”
Presenting your volunteering programme to support staff as their alternative to pro bono work is your key to its success. Framing it as a chance to use non-legal professional skills to help in the community will have traction across the entire firm.
“Having a healthy mix of skills-based opportunities alongside pro bono advice and team volunteering will give your partners and employees plenty of choice and subsequently result in higher levels of engagement.”
– Rob Powell, Weil, Gotshal & Manges
-Weil, Gotshal & Manges, volunteering at Open School East
Certainly Weil’s figures attest to this and their high-ranking TrustLaw average of over 55 hours pro bono per fee-earner has not been dented by a stellar volunteering programme with 53% of staff doing ten hours or more volunteering last year.
Variety is the spice of comms, as they say, and in corporate responsibility you neglect good comms at your peril. Endless emails about volunteering simply won’t do the trick. You need to be thinking about creative, high-impact ways to bring your community work to light.
From desk-drops to getting senior level people to volunteer, be creative in finding ways to break through the laptop screen and get your message out there.
Ella Blakesley, Corporate Responsibility Manager at Ashurst, is in the second year of running the firm’s volunteering programme in London.
“I’ve found having a champions’ network of people who help promote volunteering within their departments is a really effective way to bring your message across, especially in large organisations.”
Currently, Ella has a network of 26 champions who help distribute and promote the firm’s Corporate Responsibility activities. Champions know when their teams are busy and know when is a good time to start shouting about volunteering on their floor. They can act as the gatekeepers for their department and distribute material accordingly.
“Having the message come from someone in the department that people already know is a much more effective way to make sure people actually read it.”
–Ella Blakesley, Corporate Responsibility Manager at Ashurst
– Ashurst employees volunteering at Athol House in 2016
This year, each champion has set goals for their department to achieve, which gives an added layer of accountability for the team. Ella is working closely with each champion to make sure the teams hit their targets.
Benefacto’s instantly bookable opportunities are perfectly suited for the busy schedules of people that work in law firms. Allowing volunteering to be booked down to 36 hours in advance gives professionals the chance to volunteer even with a schedule that is constantly changing.
Want to know more about how Benefacto can help you launch a volunteering programme at your organisation? Get in touch, I’d be more than happy to have a chat: firstname.lastname@example.org