Is the infamous 'greedy and affluent lawyer' stereotype under threat with a new wave of altruistic law firms with a keen interest in charitable needs? Supposedly so.
The Aria Grace law firm has recently made headlines for pledging to donate at least £150,000 to charitable causes if it reaches its financial goals for the year. The firm, composed of 30 lawyers of whom are all partners said “we want to get away from the typical law firm triangle where the people at the top make the money and the people at the bottom do the work.” With the belief that businesses should prove their principles with “deeds rather than words” the firm has begun to donate their profits to charity to follow their principles of equity and fairness (Martindale). The firm’s previous model left 85% of fees as profits to their lawyers and the remaining funds were redistributed to the company, leaving less than 5% for charity. Under the new model, the lawyers retain 90% of their fees and all profits generated for the company will go to charitable causes such as the Great Ormond Street Hospital to reach a target turnover of at least £2 million in 2020 (Stone King).
Aria Grace’s new model is in stark contrast to the standard profit per equity partner (PEP) model adopted around the world whereby firms divide profits to respective equity partners. With surplus profits donated to charity, top law firms regain the chance to redistribute the ‘top 1% wealth’ which is stereotypically characteristic of successful law firms (Stone King). With a more altruistic approach for lawyers and firms across the nation, the excessive wealth which top lawyers gain would benefit the goods of those less fortunate too.
It is opposed by some law firms, however, that such firms do not have a legal nor moral obligation to diminish the profitability of successful firms, and that the choice for pro-bono or charitable work is up to the firm's partner’s to decide, rather than societal pressure. The lawyers “work tirelessly, and have accumulated extensive legal knowledge as a result of a tiresome academic career,” as such should be rewarded for their hard work with plentiful salaries and bonuses (Martindale).
Moreover, the majority of law firms make charitable donations or organize volunteer legal projects for budding lawyers to partake in and give back to the local community. These involve projects such as pro-bono work at prisons, helping inmates better understand their legal rights and current situation (The Lawyers Daily).
Yet, an ethical dichotomy persists as it is agreed upon in various articles, according to the martial legal alerts and articles foundation, that firms may abuse their charitable morals as a means of advertising and attracting customers. The Ethics Committee of the Mississippi Bar Committee determined that it is unethical for lawyers to advertise that a portion of their profits is donated to a charitable organization, as statements that are “false, misleading, or deceptive’ violate clause 7.1 of the Mississippi Rule of Professional Conduct (Stone King). Yet in the grand scheme of things, firms using their innovative characteristics as a selling feature is smart and maybe the design decor when choosing a firm, all else being equal, especially with cases worth multiple millions.
The initial dilemma of whether law firms should be required to donate a portion of surplus profits for charitable purposes has revealed a multitude of various moral and ethical nuances. It questions the sovereignty of law firms to stand apart from the societal pressures and to be solely profitable organizations (The Lawyers Daily). Furthermore, the dilemma posits that firms who may have altruistic principles and guidelines in place may act as a means of selfish profit-driven greed to boost business profits even further through deceptive advertising.
Whether charitable causes should be an enforced aspect required for lawyers to keep their professional license or for a law firm to be able to act as a contributing part of society rather than a money-greedy entity is still up for debate. While the regulation of this would go a long way in challenging the ‘greedy lawyer’ image and start a positive trend, it is yet just an idea.
To conclude is a quote from Stratton Faxon of New Haven, Connecticut who has created the 10% philosophy: “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 (The Lawyers Daily).”