Is Outsourcing Charitiable Giving to Associates Charitable?

Michael Krieger over at the Minnesota Lawyer Blog has a bone to pick with the charitable lunch policy of the law firm, Simpson Thacher, who offers summer associates a $60 per diem for lunches. Any money NOT used goes to charity. But is that really charitable? Michael doesn’t seem to think so:

‘Chow for Charity’ hungers for conscience

The essence of charity—to me at least—requires a conscientious act of selflessness. And Chow for Charity doesn’t pass muster.

The $45 donated to Legal Aid is money that the firm had expected to pay anyway, so there’s little conscience. And eating a $15 meal versus a $60 meal hardly constitutes sacrifice—someone who trades extravagance for abundance shouldn’t sit at the same table as, say, a Red Cross or Children’s Law Center volunteer.

Here’s how I see it: Simpson Thatcher is enabling charitable contributions with real dollars. However, by leaving it up to summer associates to decide how charitable they’d like to be, they’re likely exposing summer associates to real-life charitable decisions that they’ve likely not encountered to date due to their previous lives as students. There is a conscientious act of selflessness here, but it’s outsourced to their associates.

It would be interesting to find out what Simpson Thatcher does with the data they gain from this experiment. Do they make more offers to the more charitably generous associates? Do they reward the networking skills of those who spent a lot, but spent well?

It seems like putting decisions like this in the hands of associates could lead to more considered decisions. Frankly, partners could write checks that dwarf this without much conscience.

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