Opening Statements

DC Lawyers Provide Boost for Legal Services, Earn Recognition in Turn

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The Boy Scouts get badges. Spelling bee winners get trophies. And now Washington, D.C., lawyers can claim “platinum,” “gold” or “silver” status based on the amount of money they donate to local legal services.

The status is part of the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission’s new Raising the Bar in D.C. fundraising campaign, which aims to help increase support of legal services organizations.

Firms committing .11 percent of revenue are recognized at the platinum level. Firms committing .09 percent and .075 percent of revenue are honored at the gold and silver levels, respectively. Because the recognition levels are based on the percentage of revenue, smaller firms can be honored alongside their larger brethren.

“There is an important role to be played by law firms in supporting legal services providers,” says Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman, who chairs the Access to Justice Commission. “We believe this program will incentivize a significant increase in giving.”

The recession has delivered a double whammy. The number of people in need of legal assistance has increased, but the financial resources of the D.C. legal services network have decreased, making providers even more dependent on law firm generosity, says Andrew Marks, a commission board member and a partner at Crowell & Moring in D.C. “Many law firms want to do their part but don’t have any sense of what’s the right amount for them to give,” Marks says. “We thought it would be helpful for them to know what other law firms are doing.”

And nobody involved seems to think the new tactics are too forceful on unwitting lawyers desperate to look good in front of their peers. “Nobody’s going to do this because of peer pressure,” scoffs Marks. “They’ll do it because they believe in the importance of legal services and want to be recognized for contributing.”

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