Lawyers Are Unhappy…But Not for the Reasons You Think
One of the most common sources of lawyer unhappiness that’s also least discussed is the soul-crushing nature of the work that many of us do. Whether it’s defending large companies with racist or sexist policies, or churning through cookie-cutter cases that are all the same, many lawyers feel dissatisfied and unchallenged even if they’re well compensated. For that reason, coaching programs trumpeting messages like “happy lawyers are rich lawyers” or “outsource your way to a seven-figure law firm” fall flat for many lawyers who long for meaningful work.
One solution? A purpose driven law firm. Though geared for any small business, this article, How to Start and Grow a Purpose Driven Business from Inc. Magazine offers stats and tips that apply similarly to law firms.
What is a Purpose Driven Law Firm?
ChatGPT offers a great definition of a purpose driven law firm:
A purpose-driven law firm is a legal practice that operates beyond just profit motives and integrates a clearly defined, meaningful mission into its business model. This mission often aligns with ethical values, social responsibility, or community engagement, and it shapes the firm’s decisions, practices, client selection, and overall approach to law.
In a purpose-driven law firm, the mission might focus on areas such as:
- Access to Justice: Providing legal services to underprivileged communities, working pro bono on certain cases, or engaging in legal issues that align with human rights and social justice.
- Environmental Stewardship: Focusing on environmental law, representing clients in cases that promote conservation, sustainability, and responsible corporate behavior.
- Community Engagement: Actively participating in local community initiatives, supporting charitable causes, and fostering a workplace culture that encourages community service, local development, or a diverse workplace.
As this definition bears out, a purpose-driven firm doesn’t have to focus on work that directly serves the public interest. Instead, the firm can handle ordinary legal matters like divorce, family law or estate planning but do the work in a way that advances a larger mission of workforce equality, or improving the local community.
Why a Purpose Driven Law Firm?
You’ve probably heard the saying “doing well by doing good.” That’s probably one of the best reasons to start a purpose-driven practice. Not only will you find more personal satisfaction doing work that matters, but you’ll attract better quality clients, and likely make more money.
Here’s why. The stats from the Inc. article show that having a purpose makes firms stand out and appeals to consumers willing to pay more;
- 72% of US consumers buy from companies reflecting their values.
- 71% of millennials will pay more for brands they believe in.
- Even with 40-year high inflation, 57% of Americans bought from socially responsible brands in 2022.
- 82% of consumers consider how a brand treats customers, employees, and community important in purchasing.
- 46% find the cost of for-purpose brands a barrier, but 70% say a company’s mission is an important determinant for support.
Lessons for Law Firms
So how can you start a purpose driven law firm? Some tips from the Inc. article:
1. Build a Community, Not Just Services
Law firms should look beyond their traditional client-services model and focus on creating communities centered around shared values and mission. It can be achieved through engaging with local organizations, organizing pro bono services, or highlighting cases that resonate with their purpose. For example, a firm focused on divorce law could support dress for success charities for single-mothers, or back groups advocating for better pay and childcare benefits for single-parent families.
2. Harness the Power of PR
Public relations can be a strong tool for sharing unique stories that resonate with the law firm’s mission. The news media is always looking for ‘feel good” stories, and lawyers representing sympathetic clients seeking justice fit the bill. You can recycle the news coverage you receive on social media which can keep marketing costs down.
3. Right-Size the Business Model
Sometimes a purpose-driven niche requires a creative business model. Law firms can evaluate their service offerings to optimize what resonates with their mission and eliminate what doesn’t. For example, some family law attorneys with a mission of drama-free divorce have grown so disillusioned about the court process, that they limit their practice to mediation only. Other attorneys who represent online entrepreneurs of color have had to play around with different business models like subscription services to make their rates affordable. Focusing on what truly aligns with the firm’s core values can ensure that the practice remains profitable while pursuing its mission for good.
The Incremental Approach
If you can’t figure out a way to make a purpose driven law firm work, don’t give up. Check out my article on How Solos Can Do Work They Love that Doesn’t Pay the Bills for more ideas.
When the road gets tough, it’s the larger mission that reminds why the journey started in the first place. By adopting a purpose-driven model, law firms can not only cater to today’s conscious consumer but also foster a workplace that attracts the best talent. In an era where ethical practice and social responsibility are more than buzzwords, the legal industry has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the way.