Corporate Citizenship Initiative Binds Culture of Two Firms

Today’s post was authored by guest blogger Wendi Littlefield, who is a principal at CauseWay, a firm that helps law firms develop and implement strategic cause programs that provide significant business value.

In January 2011, Atlanta-based Kilpatrick Stockton and San Francisco-based Townsend and Townsend and Crew emerged from a merger as Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP

Most professional services firms are great at getting the merger paperwork done, but all too often, cultural integration is given short shrift. In the case of Kilpatrick Townsend, however, cultural integration had a powerful catalyst – the IMPACT initiative.

IMPACT was first established at Kilpatrick Stockton in 2004 as an expansion of the firm’s three-year old, formal pro bono program. It evolved from that point to become a comprehensive corporate citizenship initiative including pro bono legal services, traditional volunteerism, diversity and inclusion, sustainability, philanthropy, and community leadership/nonprofit board service.

Townsend and Townsend and Crew partners were first introduced to IMPACT as they came together with their new Kilpatrick Stockton partners to plan for the future as Kilpatrick Townsend at a retreat in New Orleans in June 2011. IMPACT played an important role in bringing everyone together as attorneys participated in a half-day teambuilding service project of their choice: either constructing a community garden and completing landscaping projects in the Fillmore Gardens neighborhood or painting mural cut outs to be hung in parks throughout New Orleans.

Director of Corporate Citizenship Whitney Deal recalls, “We received a very positive response and there was a real desire to keep the momentum going. Historically, Townsend and Townsend and Crew did not have a formal volunteer program. Individual offices had done service projects over the years, but it had never been a coordinated effort. After the retreat, attorneys and staff in the legacy Townsend offices were eager to create Volunteer Councils like those in place in the legacy Kilpatrick Stockton offices to help organize volunteer projects, and we also saw more attorneys begin to actively engage in pro bono work. It wasn’t long before other aspects of IMPACT such as diversity and inclusion were fully ramped up in the former Townsend offices, and attorneys and staff firm-wide were advancing the various components collaboratively.”

What sort of an effect did that collaboration have on the firm? Deal said it was meaningful.

“Participating in service together – whether pro bono or more traditional volunteerism – proved to be one of the most effective ways to help people get to know one another and break down barriers. When attorneys were working side by side on a project, it no longer mattered which firm they came from. All that mattered was accomplishing the task at hand for individuals or communities in need. Doing something positive that everyone could be proud of united both firms in a unique and authentic way.

Four years later, is IMPACT still paying cultural dividends?

“From day one, IMPACT has served as one of the primary ways in which we ‘live’ our values and weave them into the fabric of our business operations,” says Deal. It helps us be mindful of the social, environmental and economic impact we have on the communities in which we live and work. But it also serves as an incredibly strong foundation for the firm culture we want to foster internally. Our spirit of citizenship is something about which partners, associates and professional staff collectively have a great sense of pride. Last year alone, 64 percent of the firm (796 attorneys and staff) participated in at least one firm-sponsored project, and we collectively performed 33,274 pro bono hours at a value of $14.5 million!”

Current firm Chairman, Henry Walker, shares, “One of the firm’s core values is to be a good citizen of the communities in which we live and work. IMPACT has helped us formalize and focus our corporate citizenship efforts as well as increase participation. By doing good things together, we have also become more united as a firm.”

With IMPACT playing such a pivotal role, it’s clear that the firms’ shared commitment to community played a big part in ensuring the transition was successful and that two notable firms became one, unified and even more noteworthy organization who will continue to impact the legal industry.