Philanthropy is very personal

In a recent thread on a listserv to which I contribute, there was discussion about the philanthropic proclivities of lawyers – that they aren’t charitable enough. I was moved to comment, and thought you might be interested in my comments. They follow. You will note that the discussion hit a nerve for me.

First, it is obvious that there is a difference in generations (associates being the newbies and partners being the seasoned folks). Second, the newbies do have loans (or at least some of them) that my generation did not. I’m not sure why we didn’t, but we seemed to work, our parents helped out and the cost of the schooling was less. I’m sure there are other reasons as well.

The issue of philanthropy can be likened to the issue of bar association participation in that it’s the seasoned folks that tend to be the greater supporters of the organized bar. Again, that’s in part because of their philosophical bent (as Diane might say, “giving back” to the community that helps put food on the table). But, in fairness to the newbies, the large firms tend not to support their participation … they tend not to pay the dues, tend not to give them time credit for the participation, tend to require higher and higher billable hours of effort … and generally make it difficult to participate — they give no support, financial, moral or mentoring support for the bar participation. I’ve heard many partners say it is “incumbent on the associate to do so at his/her ‘expense’ (time and money).”

As for philanthropy itself, I am very disturbed by those who say that so and so “should give” or that so and so “should give to a given charity.” First, so the saying goes, “charity begins at home.” Second, like religion, charity is a personal matter and none of anyone’s business but the person him/herself.

There is no reason why lawyers should be better people than others. They are no worse and no better. They just are. When the economics of this country change, when the values of this country are more in tune with “human values,” then, maybe, we can make a case that all lawyers should be more philanthropic. Lawyers, in general, give a hell of a lot … both in terms of time and money … and I think it disingenuous to say that one group of lawyers or another doesn’t give enough!

Just my opinion …

Sorry for the rant. But I’m tired of philosophical rhetoric without a concomitant commitment on the part of most of those who complain.


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