What do you think when you see the words “law firm?” If you are like me, brought up on a steady stream of Ally McBeal, Boston Legal and Suits, you probably think of a bunch of well-heeled, well dressed partners arguing fabulously interesting and lucrative cases with equally fabulously interesting personal lives. “Lawyers who give a portion of their profits away to effective charities” doesn’t fit anywhere in this description.
And yet, what if I told you there’s a law firm doing exactly that? The Georgia-based Butler Law Firm has announced, for the second year in a row, its Giving Project, in which they will give away $100,000 to opportunities that could do the most good.
In 2018, the firm (then Butler Tobin) announced the first Giving Project, inspired by the philosophy of Peter Singer. The award money was evenly divided between among three effective charities, all of which are promoted by GiveWell and The Life You Can Save: Against Malaria Foundation, Evidence Action “Deworm the World” Initiative and GiveDirectly.
The Q&A below from Butler Law Firm’s website explains why they donate overseas, why they give money instead of time and how giving benefits them as well as the project beneficiaries.
Why aren’t you giving this money away to local charities, or your law schools, or political candidates who will help us right here in the United States?
We do give to those causes, although not in this amount. The reason that this money will probably go to the developing world is that we’re trying to get the most bang for our buck.
Generally, seeking the maximum return for your dollar means giving money overseas because, for all of the serious problems we have in the United States, the problems in the developing world are more severe and comparatively cheaper to solve. Rampant malnutrition, river blindness, famine, and murderous civil wars are not common in the United States. In other places, they are.
In his book The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer argues that you can save a life in the developing world for $1,000 or less. We don’t mean to diminish the importance of domestic giving, but when it comes to our firm’s big give, we think we can do the most good for the most people by giving abroad. In parts of the developing world, a $5 mosquito net can be the difference between life and death.
I know you, and this is a surprise—are you really so wealthy that you don’t have anything else to do with this money?
We are comfortable, in that all of the people who work at our firm have roofs over their heads, food on their tables, and no crushing needs. We also have mortgages or rent payments, and some of us have children to take care of. But an income of over $32,400 per year puts us in the top 1% of earners globally, and we think that statistic speaks volumes about the needs of others, particularly in developing countries.
Next time I see you, are you going to judge me for driving a nice car or buying Starbucks coffee?
Nope. We aren’t claiming to be icons of charity or moralistic philosophers, because we’re not.
We are trying to take a step in the right direction. The bottom line is that when we turn eighty and take a hard look in the mirror, we want to see somebody who made the world a better place.
Wouldn’t it be better to give your time, not your money?
This is another question that we think lots of people have, but sometimes don’t ask because they don’t want to be impolite. We think it’s a good question.
We do give some time to charitable causes, as noted on our Community page, but we spend far more time practicing law. We think that’s a good decision because we’re better at practicing law than running charities, and by doing what we’re best at, we’re able to generate money that we can donate to people who are best at running charities. Those people can use the money efficiently, and can accomplish more good than we could if we tried to do their jobs.
Givewell.org already offers great suggestions on where to give money. Why don’t you just take this webpage down and follow their suggestions, or give the money to the Gates Foundation and let them distribute it?
This is a good question. There are two main reasons.
First, we want to publicize what Peter Singer and others have called “effective altruism”—that is, the practice of giving money away in such a way as to maximize its positive effects. We hope that by publicizing this giving process, we maximize the chances that someone else who is going to give money away will do so in a manner that is also calculated to provide the most help for the most people.
Second, we want to spread the word about our law firm. Of course, we have self-interested reasons for doing that—it’s good marketing (although if our only goal was marketing, we could think of more efficient ways to spend $100,000). By bringing more cases to our law firm, we increase the amount of money that we’ll be able to give next time.
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