The 10 Percent Philosophy – Charity & The Legal Profession

I’ve been meaning to write about charity and the legal profession for a quite awhile.

First, let me say there are countless professionals, professional organizations and everyday people who give charitably, generously, often anonymously to benefit others.  There is no right or wrong way to give – it is entirely personal.

It is also why I have such a vocal position about lawyers being forced to donate their time in order to keep their professional license.

Yet, there are ways to give that actually enhance the profession that don’t include force, provide tremendous benefits to the recipients, make the lawyers feel good and Stratton Faxon of New Haven, Connecticut is most notable in my mind for creating a charitable philosophy which is a 100% win across the board. They are just one example of a law firm advertising what they do and doing it right, in my opinion.

Stratton Faxon has created the 10% philosophy:

Stratton Faxon sets aside 10% of its fee on each case for charitable causes. This giving policy reflects our understanding that although money may offset a grievous loss or injury, it can never fully right a wrong. Giving back to the community allows us as trial lawyers to create a sense of legacy out of the monetary settlements achieved for our clients. Donations are directed to the client’s charity of choice as well as other groups that support the civil justice system. Stratton Faxon also enjoys sponsoring a number of community events throughout the year.

Simple. Powerful.

In one fell swoop they’ve taken on the image of ‘greedy lawyer’ and said ‘not so.’  They’re giving to client-directed charities from their profits on each case. I don’t take issue with them using it as a potential selling feature.  It’s smart. Everybody wins and there is nothing wrong with this philosophy.  I know Mike Stratton from my days as a young attorney. He’s a heavy-hitter in the Connecticut personal injury world and took over the litigation of our first major personal injury case.  And it’s certainly easier to have this philosophy when your cases are multiple millions of dollars.

Imagine if every legal heavyweight did something we all could see. And even if you are not a heavyweight, doing whatever you can. And to those who would say, ‘I do it anonymously, it’s my business’  that’s fine.  It is your business and your choice.  To those who are new and need every penny earned, this is totally understandable. But imagine if you are already doing something and considered doing something additionally that is visible and in your capacity as a legal professional. This type of visible contribution would go a long way to challenging the ‘greedy lawyer’ image and start a positive trend.  And if you are brand new and struggling, yet at some point you are inclined to make charitable donations, this may be something you aspire to in the future.  It’s just an idea.  And it may ultimately be the deciding factor when clients choose a lawyer all other things being equal.  It’s a 100% win across the board.

Imagine a Trust and Estates lawyer giving a dollar amount from every trust created to a charitable trust of the client’s choice. Imagine lawyers who work with startups giving to organizations which foster entrepreneurship or sponsor programs which encourage children to learn business. Imagine a dogbite lawyer donating to an animal shelter to prevent automatic euthanizing of unwanted dogs.  Imagine a criminal lawyer donating to groups which get kids off the street or D.A.R.E. The tie-ins are obvious. No, it’s not for everyone.  I wouldn’t presume to tell you how you must spend your money. But for those who are so inclined, how terrific would this be!

Solo Practice University has always had a stated mission of donating a portion of its proceeds when the time is right. That time is coming soon. We’re closing in on the right organization. Watch for details.

Do you know any legal profession who states their charitable philosophy as clearly as Stratton Faxon?

This entry was posted in Marketing, Subjective Opinions. Bookmark the permalink.

Enjoy our blog posts with lunch! Enter your email address and we'll send you an email each time a new blog post is published.

Want your free copy of Business Call is Back and Attorney Guide to Virtual Receptionists? Subscribe by email below and you will be able to download them immediately.

6 comments on “The 10 Percent Philosophy – Charity & The Legal Profession

  • Are there any ethical obligations/complications in terms of notifying the client of this arrangement? I hate to think like a lawyer, but I find that is what I do now!

  • Given Mike’s high profile and publication of his activities in addition to the donation of ‘his’ percentage of legal fee is directed by the client, I have to believe this is incorporated in the retainer and approved of by the client. Again, this is a percentage of fees earned by the law firm, not a percentage of the client’s award. So, I don’t imagine there is a notification problem. It’s not the client’s money.

  • Exactly. Practicing law is my retirement gig: I do it to provide service to people who fall between the cracks. They are too prosperous to qualify for free service & they can’t afford most lawyers. My newspaper ad says, “Affordable Help for People with Troubles.” I charge flat fees, I take payments, I am cheap, and, yes, I get stiffed sometimes. It goes with the territory. My financial goal is modest: to provide a third stream of income roughly comparable to my pension and my social security. Obviously, this would not be feasible for a young person with kids to raise. Circumstances allow me to do it, so I do it.I also do  pro bono stuff- it is a way to broaden my experience quickly & gain reputation, so it is not entirely altruistic. And none of this has anything directly to do with my wife’s and my financial giving, which is proportionate to our total, not merely law practice, income.Because of what I do, I am developing a lot of expertise on family law issues, criminal law–especially at the misdemeanor & D-felony end–small claims, etc. I become more useful to people as time goes on. A lot of very good lawyers would be lost doing a lot of this stuff. Giving money is probably a much more helpful thing for them to do than giving time and skill which they may not really have available would be. And that’s O.K.

  • What a fantastic idea! I am going to do some research and think about how I can make this happen in my practice.

    Unfortunately, I hear a lot of the ‘lawyer as liar’ jokes. People make these jokes right in front of me as if I’m not supposed to be offended. I do not practice lying for a living and honestly, think of myself and most of the lawyers I know as incredibly honest and concerned with being ethical probably to the point of overkill. I say this to say that the legal profession could really use an image overhaul and I think what you’ve described here could do exactly that. It helps people to see us as the honest, compassionate human beings that most of us are.

  • Susan, I greatly respect your opinions and am almost always on the same page, but not on this one. First, no state requires pro bono service as a condition of licensure and your statement about this is just wrong. In fact mandatory pro bono has been a non-starter whenever it has come up. Second, we have a tremendous unmet legal need, that ironically, much of your work with the solo practice university is aimed at meeting, e.g. through advocacy of unbundled services. Giving to charities, while important and highly worthwhile, does not necessarily address that legal need. Beyond helping to meet legal needs, there is greater value for lawyers to provide pro bono service.There is nothing more fulfilling for many lawyers than donating time to those who do not share our good fortune. It’s just good for the sole.

Comments are closed automatically 60 days after the post is published.