by Mark Powers & Ashish Karvé
Originally published in Lawyers Weekly
Confucius said, “Choose a job you love and you will never work a day of your life.” It’s unlikely you’ll never have to do any marketing for your law firm, even if you involve yourself in an effort that combines deep meaning for you with wider consequences for the community. But a well-crafted charitable effort can become a major contributor to the overall client development program of a law firm.
Engaging in a charitable effort illustrates your ability to look outside of yourself, beyond narrow self-interest, and toward something that contributes to things of wider concern or importance. For Lucas Fleming, a criminal defense attorney in St. Petersburg, Fla., identification of a cause came out of observations he was making every day in his law practice. As a criminal defense attorney, Lucas regularly experiences firsthand the long-term effects of educational failure. He observes that the youths who did not succeed in the educational system ended up being his clients.
Fleming has proven himself to be an excellent marketer, building a very successful practice. Among the many activities that help his marketing efforts is a charity he created called Lawyers for Literacy. The organization enlists volunteers who work with third-grade children to prepare them for the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test by increasing their reading proficiency speed, and comprehension.
Volunteer tutors are typically, but not exclusively, local attorneys. Lawyers for Literacy focuses on third grade students because, in Florida, third grade is the first time that children can fail the statewide, mandatory exam that determines promotion to the next grade level. For that reason, this becomes a very meaningful time to reach at-risk students.
Since its inception in 2003, the Lawyers for Literacy reading program has expanded to as many as five schools in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties and tutored over 200 students. It has been very well-received by students and teachers alike. Schools have seen scores rise. Lucas points out that there are other benefits that are more difficult to measure. Students become exposed to local professionals and it is often the first interaction for that child with someone with that level of education.
Tutoring sessions take place for one hour over lunch, which makes it practical for attorneys to commit to the program. The program takes place during a pre-defined 12-week period every year leading up to the FCAT testing date. But a lot goes on behind the scenes, including communicating with schools, assigning tutors, scheduling sessions and managing changes in schedules. Lucas now has an administrator to coordinate many of these activities, but he is still the force behind the strategic and fundraising efforts. He promotes an annual giving program and applies for grants from bar associations and local corporations. He is constantly recruiting for tutors at bar events. He promotes the program through the local media outlets. He organizes an annual party to recognize volunteers and donors.
Focus key to success
Lucas says that creating a program that was tightly defined was key to Lawyers for Literacy’s success. He set out to develop a program that was easy to understand and had a specific beginning, defined commitment and specific end. Further, it had to permit individuals to see the impact of their efforts.
To make it easier to get others to understand and want to participate in your program, Lucas suggests developing an elevator speech that succinctly answers the question, “What do you do?” Not only does this help to gain clarity about the charity’s mission, but it serves as a tool to promote participation in that effort.
Even though this is a story about the marketing value of law firm charities, Lucas’ primary goal in establishing his charity was to make a difference. Since it is not likely that anyone will receive immediate business results, a resolve that carries through difficult times is required. Lucas’ father was an Episcopal minister and his mother is a judge. He grew up hearing his family talk about service to others, and his entire practice has those underpinnings.
If you are trying to identify a cause, choose one that will be easy for you to commit to for the long term. Your commitment will be communicated by the passion and sincerity with which you speak as well as the persistence with which you act. Any charitable endeavor motivated solely by the potential business benefits is likely to fail, on both counts. Most efforts will not yield substantial results for the charity immediately and realizing tangible benefits to your practice may be years off. If you do not have a steady inner compass to maintain a certain course, you are likely to become discouraged and abandon the effort.
An authentic marketing campaign involves looking for chances to reveal yourself to others. The choice of the mission of your charitable effort reveals a particular side of you and your firm. In Lucas’ case, Lawyers for Literacy allowed him to communicate his belief in education. It also allowed him to display the compassionate side of his law firm.
In building a referral marketing base, we search for opportunities to connect with individuals who might be in a position to help grow our business. The marketing benefit from Lucas’ charity to his law firm has been engaging members of the legal profession and having a broad reach in the community. It has provided him with a positive topic for interaction with influencers. That makes Lawyers for Literacy an example of a well- defined charity that can create multiple, authentic and meaningful marketing opportunities.