Lawyers: what are they good for?

Updated: Sep 27, 2019

On the 12th April I had the great pleasure to attend the ESELA (the legal network for social impact) annual conference. The main theme was ‘The Impact Revolution: the Role of Law and Lawyers’. Inspired by the day, I was considering the role of lawyers more generally. So who are they?


If anyone is good at complex deals, it’s lawyers. As a profession, they are used to finding compromises. That potentially makes them useful advocates for social issues that are not black and white, that involve nuanced negotiation and convincing a great deal of people to act. That’s most social issues.

Creative problem-solvers

The main theme of the ESELA conference was: ‘Good intentions are not enough: we need solutions and impact.’ Lawyers deal with complex problems every day and when they lend their brain to issues such as social impact investing, everyone wins!

Legal advisors

The main strength of lawyers is of course in their legal skills which have taken years of studying, training and practising to acquire. These skills can be used for the greater good via pro bono to individuals in need, charities or social enterprises. There are organisations like LawWorks (where I used to work), Trust Law, Advocates for Development and others that can facilitate pro bono. A few hours of their time can literally transform somebody’s life – I’ve seen it happen, and how lawyers got more satisfaction from it than any billable work.


The role of lawyers has evolved from just legal advisors to business people. Business skills are essential for their own business development and in helping their clients achieve their goals. These skills could also be transferred to helping social causes and society groups thrive – that makes lawyers excellent trustees and allies.

Social change makers

The conference opened with one speaker (I believe Amit Bhatia) saying that behind every societal change there was a great lawyer. When change needs to be enshrined in the law to be effective, for example the de-criminalisation of homosexuality (as was recently done in India) or abolishing slavery, lawyers are the ones who get it over the line.

The role of lawyers is what they make it – ‘bill, bill, bill’ or ‘bill (coz we all need to make a living) + support access to justice + make social change happen’. Those who choose the latter are true role models and a beacon of hope for the profession.

UPDATE: Private Goodness has published a new online course specifically about Corporate Social Responsibility for lawyers: