Philanthropy-Light at NY Law Firms

Slate’s Daniel Gross has a snippy commentary about a short article that appeared in a recent NY Times. (See the 4th item down.) Gross summarizes the facts:

[The Times article] …describes a philanthropic trend at big New York law firms. Under the Chow for Charity program, now in its fifth year, summer associates at the giant law firm Simpson Thacher can elect not to enjoy a $60 per person lunch with a firm lawyer. Instead, if they choose to eat with the lawyer at a more down-scale joint and spend $15 or less each, the firm will donate the difference ($45 per person) to a nonprofit legal group like Legal Aid.

At one firm mentioned in the article, this programme generated nearly $50,000 in charitable donations. Gross has a few complaints about the Chow for Charity program. Chief among them apparently is the fact that the donations dont actually cost these law firms anything: money that would have been spent on an associate’s lunch is simply reallocated to philanthropy. Associates make the sacrifice, but that just means that they settle for a still-pretty-good $15 lunch. The net cost to the firms is zero.

I don’t have much to say, except that evaluation of the Chow for Charity program depends pretty heavily on the baseline you choose. Compared to what a mega-multi-million-dollar law-firm could do in terms of philanthropy, Chow for Charity is, um, pretty small potatoes. Compared to, well, not doing anything philanthropic, Chow for Charity is, well, better than nothing. That of course the strong consequentialist streak in me speaking. If you happen to think that donating a mere $50,000 is so little that it’s in some way insulting or unseemly, then no, maybe $50,000 isn’t better than nothing.

[Thanks Jim!]

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