Corporate social responsibility in the legal industry: Trends and opportunities

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What comes to mind when you think of corporate social responsibility? In the legal field, this type of initiative often goes by a host of other names. But at the heart of pro bono and other legal aid efforts lies an opportunity to make a difference that transcends industry.

What is corporate social responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a broad term that refers to a wide range of business decisions related to hiring practices, diversity in supply chain sourcing, efforts toward sustainability, and a demonstrated interest in making improvements in and around the community.

Investopedia defines it as “a corporation’s initiatives to assess and take responsibility for the company’s effects on environmental and social wellbeing.”

Large companies and corporations have the power to protect the interests of their own industry and business at the cost of other businesses, the health of the environment, or even people’s lives. And too often throughout history, they have exercised that right at the expense of others.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives became a response to the impression that corporations only look out for their own businesses regardless of other factors. And businesses, from large to small, have been creating plans to increase the positive impact that their companies can make.

Now, in 2017, Liba Rubenstein, SVP of social impact at 21st Century Fox, predicts that it will no longer be enough to simply have a plan in place.

“This branding shift reflects a growing consensus that the key driver for a company’s pro-social program should be not some generic standard of responsibility or as penance for perceived negative effects, but rather unique, measurable, positive impact – human, environmental, societal, and financial.”

Giving back in the legal industry

The legal industry, just like all others, has its own unique opportunities to make a difference. Here are some of the most prominent ways that corporate social responsibility in the legal industry can be maximized to have a positive impact on the community.

Pro bono

According to the American Bar Association’s 2016 Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States, the 80% of lawyers devote time to pro bono work. An average of 70 hours per year is donated by those attorneys. When prompted to do more to impact individual lives and the broader community, pro bono work is often the first place that lawyers and law firms go. A chart by the ABA shows how each state handles its pro bono expectations.


The American Bar Association has an entire division devoted to “making positive contributions to communities in which we practice, shaping the legal profession, and helping young lawyers succeed.” Law firms can find opportunities to do more with the resources they already have through this list of initiatives and projects.

Support of fellowship investments

This includes organizations such as the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, created to commemorate the largest public interest law firm’s 40th anniversary in 1988, seeks to improve legal services to the poor while encouraging economic independence. To that end, the foundation fully funds two fellowships per year for talented young lawyers who wish to practice public interest law on a full-time basis. And it works, too: 90% of the foundation’s 791 fellows remain in public service, many of whom are still addressing the issues that inspired them in the first place.

Volunteer days

What causes are your employees passionate about? Boost employee morale as well as contribute to CSR initiatives by dedicating a full or half day regularly to volunteering in the community. Sorting in a food bank, cleaning up a beach, or delivering meals to seniors can build camaraderie in your team while making an impact on the people in surrounding neighborhoods.

Going green

In any office environment, there are opportunities to reduce reliance on paper products and move towards using more energy efficient appliances and light fixtures. The increase of technology in the legal industry, such as eFiling and eService, has also made it more possible for law firms to become more sustainable in their use of resources.

Download your free copy of The paperless law office: a practical guide>>>

One Legal’s Giving Back program

As your firm decides how and where it will focus its own CSR efforts, there are other opportunities to make a difference at no cost to your firm. One Legal recently launched a ‘giving back’ program to benefit Bay Area Legal Aid. In addition to donating all our services to the non-profit, One Legal will now donate 5% of all revenue earned from participating law firms to BayLegal. Learn more about how your firm can join >>>

There’s no need to rush into a huge and ambitious CSR program from the very start. Start small with manageable endeavors in order to create a sustainable movement that won’t lead to immediate burnout. Corporate social responsibility in the legal industry has huge potential to have a positive impact on the lives of many individuals as well as the broader community. What ripple effect could effective CSR create in your community?


How has your firm invested in the community and made an impact with investments of time and resources? Share your stories and recommendations in the comments.

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