A grassroots effort to empower law firm associates to be more charitable has gained some momentum, and some help.
Last year, Corey Laplante
, then an associate at Skadden Arps, launched The Associates’ Committee, a group that raised more than $200,000 from Big Law associates for legal aid groups and litigation non-profits for the homeless, veterans, survivors of domestic violence and others.
As the group enters its second year, Laplante — now an associate in Los Angeles at the litigation boutique Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz — says the Committee is generating interest from big law firms and partners, not just from associates.
Laplante said he hopes to “increase the impact” of the group through firm support and that member-associates have taken up the cause with a letter writing campaign to their firms.
“They’re saying they’re members and are passionate about their cause and would like the firm to match their contribution,” he explained.
Among the partners supporting the group is Jeff Simes, chair of the litigation department at Goodwin Procter, where partners have pledged a total of $6,000 to the group.
“It’s a great thing when associates pull together and are excited about something. It’s infectious,” he said.
Along with Goodwin, Laplante’s former firm Skadden has pledged $10,000 to the organization. So far, though, Laplante has found it a challenge to convince large law firms to match their associates’ contributions — a proposal he has tried to advocate — because firm leaders feel like it’s “opening the floodgates.”
Simes also acknowledged that it can be tough to convince an entire firm’s partnership spread out over many geographies to support a particular cause that could be region-specific.
However, he agreed with Laplante that the organization gives associates an opportunity to “make a direct impact.”
“They’re thinking about ways to be leaders,” he said.
Laplante made the case that the Committee is an opportunity for associates to get involved in a cause where they have some degree of ownership.
“As a young lawyer, you don’t have ownership over much,” he said. “In the pro bono space, often young attorneys show up and are deferring to the causes that the partners are interested in. [The Associate’s Committee] provides a vehicle for associates to say, ‘these are the issues I care about’.”
Last September, we reported on the Committee’s growth to more than 200 members in ten cities, all of whom contributed to the $200,000 raised in 2016. The proceeds were divided into grants for four charitable organizations: the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and the Innocence Project. The groups received 75 percent of their grants in mid-November of 2016, and the remainder this past May.
Now, the Committee is reloading and looking to make another round of donations for 2017. Grant applications closed on July 31st, and Laplante said that the groups who applied generally support immigration, criminal justice reform, education, among other issues.
As for which organizations will receive donations this year, Laplante, said the voting process will begin Aug. 21. All votes must be cast by Sept. 1, and the winners will be announced in the first week of September.
While every member receives one vote for their own contribution, members can also receive an extra vote for each new member they recruit, and ten additional votes for convincing their firm to match the sum of all associate contributions.