In what may be a first, Intel Corp. issued an RFP last fall to find law firms to partner with their attorneys on community service projects in Silicon Valley. This year it is expanding the request to three other offices. The firms it chose in the first round were Baker & McKenzie, which had done work for Intel before, and Nixon Peabody, which had not. The projects include providing legal services to entrepreneurs, resolving child guardianship disputes and assisting special education students.
This is a win/win situation for everyone. Working with corporations on specific community service projects can cement law firm relationships with clients and sometimes forge new ones. The experiences give firms a well of positive, common accomplishment to draw on and generally improves communications between the two groups.
Such programs also help satisfy those altruist urges that prompted a large percentage of lawyers to go to law school in the first place. A recent ABA Young Lawyers survey made it clear how critical the altruistic piece is to Gen X and Y associates. Almost 65% of those lawyers said they were considering changing careers within the next two years, primarily because of the failure of law to offer ways to make a meaningful social contribution.
In addition, for the corporation, the favorable public relations from these sorts of efforts are invaluable, particularly for those who recruit from the communities involved. Company employees also benefit from getting to know specific lawyers (and possibly other professionals and staff) in such a positive, us-against-the-world way.
A further enhancement would be for law firms and companies to identify projects that engage not only the lawyers, but other professionals and staff at each organization as well. Law firms could also be that ones that initiate these joint undertakings, taking on some of the startup burden and sending invitations to specific clients for whom the program is tailored.
"There’s a unique bond that’s formed when people team up to make a difference in their community," says Lisa Ellis, founder of Benedict Advisers, a corporate citizenship consultancy in Greenwich, Ct., which also advises law firms and law departments. "And using the RFP process supports community service through the normal business practices."