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Thursday, July 19, 2007

'Chow for Charity' hungers for conscience

A recent piece in The New York Times about a Manhattan law firm's charity program has been vexing me, and it seems I’m not alone.

The Times article (fourth item down) highlights a Chow for Charity program at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. There, summer associates get a $60 lunch allowance when they meet with firm lawyers. But if an associate spends just $15, the firm will donate the remaining $45 to a nonprofit legal organization.


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.

To be fair, Simpson Thacher has other, meaningful pro bono and Legal Aid programs. And I heartily applaud all attorneys who donate time and money for the greater good.

But Chow for Charity is not true charity—it's a sideshow, like Crocs or Adam Sandler movies. I'm glad that our firms here in Minnesota have better sense.


Anonymous said...

Would you prefer that Simpson Thacher not make this offer? How do you think the people who are helped each year at Legal Aid would feel about that? Are you really complaining that a law firm's charity isn't a good thing because it doesn't *hurt* enough? I am no fan of NYC BigLaw, doesn't it seem a little gauche to trash a program that puts any dollars into charity because it doesn't meet your high standards of altruism? Am I to assume that you donate enough to charity so that you're really hurting from it?

Anonymous said...

According to this logic, the government should repeal all tax breaks for charity because those tax breaks will delete the "conscience" of the "charitable" behavior and lessen the sacrifice.