Proof of good citizenship

Clients seek law firms with strong DEI, pro bono and sustainability programs. But in a sea of claims, how can you make yours stand out? 

In our 2022 buyer Top of Mind report we described legal services buyers’ increased interest in what we call “good citizenship” — how a firm treats its people, the larger community and the environment. Over 80% of the buyers we surveyed rated diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), pro bono, and sustainability information among the most important items they looked for on websites, in proposals and in relationships with their law firms. 

In response, more and more law firms are working toward positive, measurable change. Mansfield Rule–compliant hiring and promotion policies, stronger pipeline programs, and billable credit for pro bono, DEI and sustainability work are just a few ways firms are deploying resources toward better citizenship. Firms that effectively publicize and promote these efforts will be able to establish themselves as good citizenship leaders. 

However, in many cases, the quality of the messaging lags behind the quality of the programming. And as firms flood the zone with similar communications, it’s becoming harder to stand out. As a result, great efforts don’t get the recognition they deserve.

Here are our top tips for making your good citizenship programs sing:

Dare to be noticed
Successful good citizenship communications aren’t just about what you have to say, they’re also about how you say it. How can you tell your good citizenship story in a way that is fresh and different from what other law firms are doing? Consider a campaign with strong visuals and a memorable “hook” — a big idea that pulls people in and sets you apart. For inspiration, take a look at IBM’s “Be Equal” campaign, a diversity and inclusion effort with its own brand, logo, social media assets and personal storytelling.

Use real stories
There’s no substitute for an authentic first-person story. And no doubt you have many to choose from throughout your firm. Maybe someone attended an eye-opening program on challenging conversations or saw firsthand the impact of a pro bono project on a client’s life. Don’t just feature leadership talking about programs; bring in the voices of people at all levels of the firm to talk about their experiences. If your budget allows, consider using video to help bring stories to life.

Give them all the feels
Good citizenship is an ideal that appeals to emotion as well as reason. Grab attention with a campaign that speaks to how people feel about helping others, righting wrongs and building better futures. Use bold visuals and powerful language to spark interest, then back it up with facts that show you walk the talk.

Let your numbers speak
According to our research, 85% of buyers cared most about statistics showing improvement in diverse lawyer and staff hiring, retention, and promotion. Just as important is demonstrating how you involve associates and staff in DEI leadership, so make sure to include this information if you have it.

85% of buyers cared most about statistics showing improvement in diverse lawyer and staff hiring, retention, and promotion.

Keep it scannable
You have a big story to tell. But your audiences don’t always have the time to take it all in. A scannable page of good citizenship highlights is a critical part of your toolkit. It can also serve as a cheat sheet when lawyers and staff need to quickly provide good citizenship credentials in a first meeting or in a phone or Zoom call.

Show your roots
Do you have a unique history with some aspect of good citizenship that no other firm can claim? Show how this is baked into your culture and prove that you’re not just jumping on the bandwagon.

Make it multilayered
A great campaign will only take you so far if it just appears once. For true “stickiness,” drive your message home across multiple platforms, including your website, advertising, print pieces, emails, recruiting tools and social media. Rinse and repeat.

Be humble
While law firm good citizenship efforts have increased exponentially in recent years, most would agree the profession still has many miles to go. Acknowledging this even as you proudly share your achievements will raise your credibility and let the world know you are committed to long-term progress rather than just a quick fix.

Looking for more ways to make your good citizenship story sing? Contact Dawn Michalak.

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