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Let me guess—you don’t have time to think about your reputation in your community, much less devote extra hours to volunteer activities. After all, you’re already doing a lot for your community by doing what you do best—providing reliable legal services. Well, that may be true, but if you’re ignoring your community, then you’re only doing things halfway—and you’re doing yourself a disservice, too.
Getting involved in the community can mean a commitment of time and energy, but it doesn’t have to be prohibitive. Here are five ways you can get involved and build your reputation at the same time.
1. Pro bono services. The American Bar Association recommends lawyers “aspire to at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.” Note the inclusion of “at least,” and consider how many hours you work in your firm in a week, month, quarter and year. Fifty hours in an entire year isn’t really all that much when you think about it. Plus, if you can put in more pro bono time, you’re not only helping people who may not be able to afford an attorney, you’re demonstrating your commitment to your community and to the profession overall.
2. Online educational resources. For the average person, being involved in a lawsuit is a stressful, frightening prospect, regardless of whether they’re the plaintiff or the defendant. To the uninitiated, the law can seem intimidating, or even threatening, as is the case with most things we don’t fully understand. As with any unknown, knowledge can diminish fear. Making basic legal informational resources available on your website can go a long way toward helping people in your community understand the processes they may be engaged in. In addition, making an effort to educate others demonstrates transparency on your part, which can help you bring in new clients who interpret this as trustworthiness.
3. Community service. It’s no secret how important community service is to me, and that extends to my firm. We take part in several charity events throughout the year, doing everything from collecting winter coats to providing Thanksgiving dinners to those in need. Being able to help others is a bonding experience for us, and brings us closer to our community. And to be honest, none of these efforts is a one-sided venture. Doing more than just writing a check gets your name out there, and lets people know how important they are to you. Besides simply being productive members of our community, the secondary benefit is becoming known to potential clients.
4. Green initiatives. You can’t consider yourself a responsible member of the community if you’re not taking steps to conserve resources. It can be as simple as using online legal reference sources instead of printed ones, which is not only environmentally friendly, but more efficient. Or you can go paperless by digitizing files and storing information on networks or cloud servers, taking steps to keep everything secure, of course. You can also start an in-office recycling program, or replace standard light bulbs with energy-efficient, long-lasting compact fluorescent bulbs. How much you do is entirely up to you, but don’t forget to factor in the cash savings you’ll enjoy by going green. By cutting spending on overhead and supplies, you’ll have more resources to help your clients, too.
5. Honesty and customer service. Okay, that’s two things, but they’re inextricably tied together. And they may seem obvious, but hear me out. Helping the community will have a positive effect on your reputation, there’s no doubt. But the quickest way to destroy all the goodwill and positive opinion your community service builds is to slack off in the lawyer department. Being a positive influence in the community is always a good thing, but it will mean nothing if you don’t go above and beyond for your clients. Instead, your community efforts will seem hollow and phony—the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. In the end, you’re an attorney. People come to you for help with situations beyond their capability. They need you to be honest, to have integrity and to simply be there for them. That is the number one way you can serve your community, and build your reputation: through your expertise and the ethical practice of law.
One final note—whatever you decide to do for your community, make sure your intentions are in line with the activity. Unfortunately, people often expect lawyers to be self-serving. If you behave in a way that confirms their thinking, you not only damage your reputation, but you perpetuate those misconceptions about all lawyers. Serve your community for the right reasons, and the return on your investment will naturally follow.
Noble McIntyre is the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law.
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