In May 2020, just after George Floyd’s murder and as many across our nation were protesting social injustice and racial inequity, a large group of law firm leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina were thinking the same thing at the same time: what can we do to help with the resources we have? How can we drive the change that we want to see?
Two dozen of us gathered to brainstorm on how we could pool our strengths and resources to make a true difference. We discussed what we were doing within our own firms and how we could work together to do something even more meaningful. Those conversations eventually led to our forming the Carolinas Social Impact Initiative, an effort to foster a more inclusive community and reduce systemic barriers to social and economic mobility in the Carolinas.
More than a year later we are still going strong. With our joint efforts picking up steam, we are on our way to harnessing our collective resources to facilitate lasting change in our community.
As with many efforts such as ours, establishing a core mission is a crucial first step. We took that step by listening to community leaders. Many in Charlotte have been working to improve economic mobility in our minority communities in the wake of a 2014 study that ranked the city last in upward mobility among the 50 largest U.S. cities. Our county at large and many others across North and South Carolina also rank poorly in offering children the best chance to rise out of poverty. We decided we would align our strengths and address mobility and inclusiveness by establishing four separate focus areas:
- Supporting minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs
- Advancing educational opportunities
- Supporting family stability and social justice
- Improving access to social capital and career opportunities
We selected these priorities because we felt they were a good match for our skill set as lawyers, and because we believe they give us the best chance to make a difference and assist with long-term solutions to long-standing challenges. Our goal is to make a generational difference that will benefit our community and citizens well into the future.
“Tackling issues of race and equity is not easy but certainly necessary, especially after the events of last year and the continued impacts of the pandemic,” said Sherri Chisholm, executive director of Leading on Opportunity. Her organization is focused on improving economic mobility in the Charlotte area, and we have benefitted greatly from Ms. Chisolm’s guidance and the work of Leading on Opportunity in our organization and planning.
“The members of the Carolinas Social Impact Initiative have been intentional about their work in the community, speaking directly with community members and leaders to determine the best approach for their unique skills and network,” Ms. Chisolm said. “Leading on Opportunity is thankful to walk alongside the Initiative on this journey and looks forward to the lasting impact it will make on Charlotte for years to come.”
We were especially excited to launch the coalition’s first program in summer 2021: the Charlotte Legal Initiative to Mobilize Businesses (CLIMB), through which volunteer lawyers provide pro bono business legal services to low-income entrepreneurs in the Charlotte area.
CLIMB is an example of how the coalition firms are aligned and can combine resources to make a greater impact together. Both Moore & Van Allen and Robinson Bradshaw were independently brainstorming in the summer of 2020 about providing pro bono legal services to entrepreneurs in our historically under-resourced communities. Through the Carolinas Social Impact Initiative, the two firms combined their separate ideas to create a more meaningful, lasting, scalable program. The result is CLIMB, through which coalition firms apply our unique skills as lawyers to help entrepreneurs and small businesses. By volunteering those skills, we hope to help broaden economic opportunities and stability.
“The CLIMB model is one that will benefit our small businesses that often struggle to afford the legal protection and support needed to succeed in this economy,” said Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles. “We are grateful to the Carolinas Social Impact Initiative—and Robinson Bradshaw and Moore & Van Allen in particular—for bringing this equity-based resource to our city and investing in the success of our business community.”
CLIMB has been up and running as a pilot program since June of this year. During the pilot phase, volunteer lawyers from Robinson Bradshaw and Moore & Van Allen coordinated the program and provided legal services. In the coming months, we expect a broad range of coalition lawyers—as well as lawyers from other firms and legal employers—to join this effort.
In the near future, the Carolinas Social Impact Initiative plans to expand CLIMB and launch additional programs to advance our other three focus areas. Planning is well underway, as are our conversations with community leaders. We will also work to expand our impact beyond the Charlotte region.
We are so proud of the community spirit exhibited by all of our law firm leaders and are thrilled that the Carolinas Social Impact Initiative remains a true team effort. The member firms are: Alexander Ricks; Alston & Bird; Bradley; Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft; Hamilton Stephens Steel + Martin; Hedrick Gardner; Holland & Knight; Hunton Andrews Kurth; James McElroy & Diehl; Johnston, Allison & Hord; Katten Muchin Rosenman; King & Spalding; K&L Gates; Mayer Brown; McGuireWoods; Moore & Van Allen; Nelson Mullins; Offit Kurman; Parker Poe; Robinson Bradshaw; Shumaker; Troutman Pepper; Winston & Strawn; and Womble Bond Dickinson.
We would love for more firms and legal professionals to join and help us drive needed change in our communities.