When she worked as an associate at a large law firm, Kianga M. Ellis wanted to be involved in art related patronage activities, but she didn’t really know how to find time for it.
The dilemma recently prompted Ellis to start a business called the Summer Art Circle, where she now works full time. The New York City-based company sells individual memberships for summer associates at $316, which is paid by the law firms. In return, members have access to a variety of events planned by Summer Art Circle, with groups such as the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Guggenheim Museum and the New York City Ballet.
A former in house lawyer at Goldman Sachs, Ellis got the idea for her business when she spent time working with the investment banking firm’s philanthropic arm. “As I spent some time in the art world, hearing what some of the hot topics of concern were, one that kept coming up is the future of arts patronage and finding new audiences,” she says. Six law firms signed on for the 2006 season, bringing more than 300 summer associates to the program.
By getting young lawyers involved in the arts—the program includes opportunities to meet artists and participate in online dialogues—Ellis hopes at least some will continue their involvement beyond the summer. And, of course, as they begin their careers and start making money, the hope is that these lawyers will start supporting the arts financially as well.
But fostering philanthropy doesn’t just benefit arts organizations or other worthy causes. Lawyers who become involved in such activities often discover their efforts bring some benefit to their careers, too.
“The truth is law firms run on money,” says Joseph E. Ankus, a legal recruiter in Plantation, Fla. “If you’re on a board with well known members, they’ll get to know you and trust you, and you may be able to provide them service.”
Jeffrey A. Sklar, an associate with the Los Angeles office of Loeb & Loeb, co chairs a committee for Bet Tzedek, a local community legal services organization. The nonprofit’s board members include some of the city’s most successful businesspeople. “It’s great in terms of networking and the potential for business development, but the single greatest benefit is actually being able to make a difference for people,” Sklar says.
His committee is responsible for planning Bet Tzedek’s annual Justice Ball, a music event targeted at young professionals. This year’s event, which was held in July, attracted more than 3,000 attendees and featured a performance by ’80s pop band the Go Go’s. Generally, the event’s gross receipts bring well over $400,000 to the nonprofit.
Sklar attended his first Justice Ball as a summer associate. He enjoyed it and was interested in Bet Tzedek’s mission of helping people who can’t afford legal representation. So he joined the committee, with the primary responsibility of selling at least 50 tickets for the event.
“It was hard when I first got started, because I was not comfortable asking people for money,” he says. “But now I’ve been harassing my friends for years, and they pretty much know to expect my call.”
Besides selling tickets, Sklar also attends monthly meetings. For the best experience, he advises other associates to find a volunteer group in which they feel connected with other members.
“If you go to a meeting and don’t connect with the other people there, for whatever reason, or the cause is not one that concerns you, I’d say keep looking,” Sklar adds.
“I care about this charity,” he says, “so now that makes it pretty easy to call people.”