Public Interest, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners

Invest In Your Community And Your Community Will Invest In You

Keith Lee

As I’m sure many of you heard, the southern part of the United States was blanketed with snow this past week. In particular, Georgia and Alabama (where I live) were hit particularly hard. This being the Deep South, people and municipalities were not prepared for the quantity of snow and ice that came down so quickly. This led to widespread disaster and lots of Walking Dead jokes.

Some people have attempted to explain why 2-3 inches of snow was capable of crippling cities. While many people have scoffed at such explanations, they are true to some extent. But of course, that doesn’t relieve people of responsibility of behaving and driving like morons. As things settle down and return to normal, finger pointing and blaming will likely continue to go on for sometime.

But the most interesting aspect of the “Southern Snowpocalypse” is the reaction of people in the aftermath of the storm….

By the end of the day on Tuesday, January 28, it became clear that many people were not going to make it home. Thousands of cars were abandoned due to the roads being covered in ice. This was compounded by hundreds of accidents. Roads became impassible due to accidents as well as the weather. It was a disaster in the making. But communities responded by reaching out and helping their fellow man.

There were over 13,000 students stranded in schools across Alabama. Teachers stayed with them, even though they had their own families to take care of. A doctor walked six miles in the snow to perform a life-saving brain surgery — he’s not sure why it’s a big deal. On social media and places like r/Atlanta and r/Birmingham, there were dozens of posts with people offering shelter and aid to anyone who needed it. Again and again, people went out of their way to help other people.

I managed to make it home, but the other lawyers in my firm were stranded at our office. I spoke to them on the phone. They were out in the neighborhood, helping people out.  A friend called me and said that their brother was stranded on the interstate a couple miles from my house and asked if it would be okay if they walked to my house and stayed the night. I had never met the guy before, but of course it was. All across Alabama and Georgia, people were reaching out into their community and feeding and sheltering strangers — without asking anything in return.

Many professionals (and perhaps especially attorneys) often find it difficult to give without expecting anything in return. Attorneys are narrowly focused knowledge specialists. They closely guard this knowledge as it enables them to charge clients hundreds of dollars an hour in return for access and use of that knowledge. As such, it can be anathema to attorneys to give of themselves freely as they see it as somehow devaluing their knowledge assets. Or to put it in lawyer-speak: they are not receiving any consideration for their efforts in sharing and promoting their experience and knowledge.

But this is a wrongheaded and foolish approach. Attorneys should give freely of their time and knowledge. Not in every single matter and to every single person, of course. But attorneys need to take time to interact and be a part of their community — which involves giving freely of their experience. I borrowed the title of this post from Jordan Rushie. I’m not sure if it originates from him, but he says it is the founding idea of his firm. The concept of “invest in your community and your community will invest in you” dovetails with giving without expecting anything in return.

Investing in your community, putting your work ethic and professionalism on display for the betterment of a group of people — a neighborhood, your kid’s little league team, a running club — puts you in the minds of everyone in that community.  But it can’t be done in a cynical, quid pro quo manner. You have to give of yourself freely because you genuinely want to help the community. And if you approach the work and time you give freely to a community with the same professionalism you bring to bear in your office, people notice. People remember it and appreciate it. They’ll tell other people about what you have done.

Investing in your community likely won’t have an immediate impact on your bottom line. But it will help you meet people, build relationships, and forge new ties to your community — which, if you are concerned for the long-term prospects of your firm, are some of the most valuable things you can do.


Keith Lee practices law at Hamer Law Group, LLC in Birmingham, Alabama. He writes about professional development, the law, the universe, and everything at Associate’s Mind. He is also the author of The Marble and The Sculptor: From Law School To Law Practice (affiliate link), published by the ABA. You can reach him at keith.lee@hamerlawgroup.com or on Twitter at @associatesmind.

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