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Justifying your commitment to pro bono work in an overworked 10-lawyer firm isn’t easy. As a young associate in San Francisco in the mid-1980s — with the recent recession a vivid memory — I had to be strategic, in addition to well-meaning and persuasive, when pitching to my partners. Fortunately, the firm’s leaders understood the concrete benefits of doing good works, and taught me lessons that have stayed with me ever since. The first insight emerged when my boss handed me an invitation to an expensive, high-profile fund-raiser, and said, “You should go to this one, at my expense, and bring along one of your do-good clients.” I had recently taken on the representation of a feisty group that opposed a controversial high-rise on the edges of San Francisco’s financial district, and my clients were lively and savvy. My boss predicted that the head of the zoning board would be at the event, and would be intrigued to talk to a pro-development firm lawyer who represented anti-development forces. Indeed, he was intrigued — and that conversation forever changed my interactions with the zoning board, to my advantage. I’d had a chance to connect with somebody whose opinion mattered, in the context of my community service — where we could both appreciate each other’s work and socialize along with my clients, without the taint of “lobbying” getting in our way. Ten years later, I followed a similar approach when representing artists facing eviction from a city-owned building. I accomplished my primary goal beautifully, winning a great financial and relocation settlement. But at the same time, I didn’t lose sight of my personal agenda. When the mayor approached me and complimented me by wishing I’d represented “his” client (the City of Oakland), I knew that I’d been noticed, in a positive light and in the best of settings. I call this effort “high-content networking.” It’s one of the sweetest rewards of strategic pro bono work, and the context of these interactions is critical. You aren’t just hanging out with folks — they are watching you in action. You are pushing an agenda and showing your skills, but you aren’t doing it for money. Even if the observer doesn’t sympathize with your client, usually there’s a receptivity that doesn’t always exist when representing a private client. At the same time, typically there’s a curiosity about your position that breaks the social ice, even for the most awkward communicators. There are three critical components to making pro bono representation work for you. 1. Pick an arena that intersects with your paying client work. For me, this means real estate and land use; for others, it might mean administrative hearings or eviction defense. Choose a project that has meaning for you personally, but don’t be shy about picking a cause that also connects you to folks you want to meet regarding your private practice area. 2. Learn how to talk about your work in a way that is both genuine and, frankly, a bit self-promoting. Do it subtly and keep your client’s concerns out front, but take credit for what you are doing. Scout out opportunities for press coverage, bring your client to key political events, and send a copy of your advocacy letter to those you want to impress. 3. Follow through on your new contacts in a way that respects them but furthers you and your paying clients’ needs. Listen to the priorities of those you are meeting, so you can frame your private client’s needs appropriately. Let the people you meet know about the kind of work you do. Don’t be shy about trolling for referrals. When you get a referral from one of your new networking connections, be sure to send a thank-you note — plus thank them personally when you next meet up. There really isn’t a dichotomy between self-promotion and good works, and cultivating a climate in which pro bono work is valued isn’t just about social responsibility, as important as that is to many of us. Pro bono work can be integrated into marketing and networking strategies, and if done consciously and carefully, will undoubtedly benefit your firm as well as your clients.
DRIVE IN CLIENTS Tired of buying tickets to bar association dinners and running up your gold card on expensive but boring lunches? Here’s a marketing campaign that just might inspire you. Surveys show that 75 million people (one in four Americans) identify themselves as racing fans. Paid attendance at National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) events is higher than at National Football League games. So Jenkins, Jenkins & Jenkins, a small firm headquartered in La Plata, Md., decided to sponsor 10 stock car racing teams. In so doing, the firm became the largest single sponsor in NASCAR racing this year. Jenkins, Jenkins & Jenkins, which offers personal injury, real estate, criminal, divorce and corporate law services, is working with Williams Co. of America Inc., a Mooresville, N.C.-based agency that focuses on motor sports public relations. Even its Web site is car driven: www.racinglaw.com. “Like other companies, our firm is looking towards motor sports to help as we expand our business and help our clients,” said Frank Jenkins, who owns the law firm with his father Louis Jenkins and brother Louis Jenkins Jr. Says Frank Jenkins: “Having a sponsor’s access to an event like the Daytona 500, where our clients get to meet racing legends, is an unforgettable way to thank our clients, and one that directly boosts their relationship with us.” Larry Bodine PM Forum [email protected]

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