These are difficult times, but we need not feel powerless. Law firms can do a lot to help their communities when they need them most – we are all in this together.
During this special episode we talk about leading with compassion. We cover many ideas on how law firms and individuals can be of help, including:
- supporting isolated people;
- supporting those most affected by the economic breakdown;
- and supporting mental health.
We are joined by Olga Ivannikova, the Founder of Private Goodness, a London-based Corporate Responsibility and Inclusion consultancy. Olga has more than 10 years of experience of CSR and community organising. She has worked with many leading law firms on their pro bono and has previously spoke about access to justice in the House of Lords and the Royal Courts of Justice.
Olga has allocated 2 hours every day to speak to companies about their community response to this pandemic (without charge) and has many resources that she and her team update daily to share with the legal community.
You can email Olga on: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Rob Hanna (00:24):
Welcome to the legally speaking podcast, powered by Kissoon Carr. I’m your host, Rob Hanna. This week, we’ll be discussing a special topic in light of the coronavirus pandemic: How we can help? With this in mind, I’m delighted to be joined by Olga Ivannikova, the director and founder of Private Goodness an award-winning corporate social responsibility consultancy based in London. So welcome Olga.
Olga Ivannikova (00:49):
Hello. Thank you very much. Thank you for having me!
Rob Hanna (00:52):
As I mentioned at the top, this is very much a, a sort of special episode where we’re talking very much around, you know, what we can all do to sort of help in light of the current situation. Um, so starting off do you think you can give us a bit of an overview about what we think we could be doing together?
Olga Ivannikova (01:11):
Right! So, I’m glad that you said together because it’s very much the keyword now. We are all in this together and we say that a lot in the legal profession and the charity sector, but it has never, ever been more true. Uh, but it’s a very boring time. It’s a very difficult time for everyone, but we don’t need to feel powerless. There is a lot we can do. And lawyers, in particular, have a lot of amazing skills to help others. So, I hope we’ll discuss some ways how they can use them. But it doesn’t have to be legal advice, it can be somebody they like talking to; an elderly person on the phone or, uh, all sorts of ways that we can help.
Rob Hanna (01:54):
Okay. So let’s, let’s, let’s talk through those. I think there’s a lot of practical things, you know, people would want to know what they could do. So, you know, what would be your sort of top three or four tips you would give to people that they could kind of get involved with?
Olga Ivannikova (02:07):
So, I think a step number one is consider people who rely on you. So I think a lot of people already would have thought about their team and how everybody can work from home and how people can feel more connected and law firms would consider how they can help their clients and how they can be more flexible and how they can add more value. We always talk about adding more value, but now’s a really good opportunity to show people how we’re ready to help them. But I want to talk about also helping the sub-contractors or thinking about their sub-contractors and their existing charity partners. So, for example, as we are all no longer in the offices, so maybe recording this on the 24th of March and the official lockdown was just declared yesterday, what’s going to happen to people who clean your offices? I think those are the kind of, this is one thing law firms should be thinking about because if they all suddenly become, uh, uh, unemployed that will lead to a lot of hardship. So, I think we should think beyond our legal obligations and thinking, what can we do voluntarily for people who rely on us? The second thing I think we should do is to reaffirm our commitments, our existing charity partners. That’s what Allen & Overy have done. Allen & Overy and other London funders have signed a letter, which said, to all the existing partners, that we stand by you, we’re prepared to be flexible. We listen to you. There’s lots that you’re going to be worried about, but don’t worry about our funding. And I think this is a really excellent statute that is to tell people who rely on you, that, that you’re still there for them before you do anything else. And then we can talk about all sorts of other things you can do, but I think let’s do that first.
Rob Hanna (03:54):
No very, very much. Well what well said, because I think the, the thing with all of this is, is, you know, is where we can actually make the most impact with the, so I guess that’s one of the main sort of headline questions if you’d like to tackle that.
Olga Ivannikova (04:07):
So I think the main way we can have the most impact is by obviously by using our skills. So, only lawyers can give, uh, professional legal advice. So some other things anybody can do, but only lawyers can help with this. And I think that means means that they’re in a very, in a unique position and should take advantage of that. So, I would encourage people to do more pro bono than ever before. And again, that comes to existing charity partners, that it’s a bit difficult to do this remotely with some law centers and locally next, this moment, I think everybody’s having to readjust. So, while we are the law centers are figuring out how to, how to adjust the services, we have law firms who in partnership with them can offer other things. For example, if you have an IT department, maybe they can help a law firm with some of the processes. Maybe you can donate some software or something. So, help people adjust to online services and then do more pro bono work.
Rob Hanna (05:11):
Yeah. And one of the, you know, some of the themes that are sort of coming out, um, during this time is obviously, you know, supporting isolated people, um, you know, supporting people that have been sort of most affected by this, this, this sort of economic breakdown, like you said, and, you know, supporting mental health. So, you know, what can sort of, you know, be done in terms of responding and some of those key themes as well?
Olga Ivannikova (05:33):
It is interesting because now we are all isolated! Um, but let’s talk about supporting the most vulnerable, isolated people. There are different ways we can do it, we can do it via telephone. We can call people. So we call our family, our friends, our, uh, immediate community. Uh, but there are also organizations like Independent Age that provide support for older people. And they provide telephone volunteering, which is home-based. And all it involves is having a 30 minute chat, uh, with an older person, weekly or fortnightly. So that’s all that is! You speak to somebody who is, uh, who feels lonely and maybe scared on the phone for half an hour that can make a lot of difference at the scary time for people who are alone and who are told that they can’t leave their houses.
Rob Hanna (06:21):
Particularly with the, you know, not only your elderly family, but also sort of, you know, elderly people that you’ve known within your networks or friend of networks that, you know, maybe even old mentors, um, or people, you know, that now is the time really where people can, they should be trying to be proactive and really kind of giving back right. That echoes your point around, around pro bono. Um, is there anything sort of, else you would kind of touch on that around the, particularly around sort of the, the economic breakdown of things that are happening and then on the, on the mental health aspect?
Olga Ivannikova (06:51):
I think now is not the time, definitely not the time to let anybody go. Uh it’s in fact, it’s time to do more. So I, for example, my business is very small, but I’m using, this time, to expand my team, to provide micro work placements for people who are affected by the economic breakdown. So I’m providing placements for three to 10 people who can help me with various projects online. So, if you can help in a similar way, that’s one idea, but it’s also the time to help entrepreneurs. And there are different organizations that can help you with that: Hatch Enterprise, uh, already provide mentoring opportunities online. So they’re already set up for providing online mentoring opportunities and they have two and a half thousand entrepreneurs on their books who I assume need advice now. Another organization that I’m volunteering with, uh, is called Radical Recruit, who help, uh, people have experienced, so before the pandemic, experienced scare, poverty, prison and other challenges to look for work. So, now many of them were looking for work in sectors like hospitality. So, now they have to think about it again. So, they provide volunteer opportunities online to help people review their CDs. We’ll help people with interview practice. So, you know, when they do go for jobs, the job, if there are a few of those that they’re, that they’re more ready, every lawyer that has a job at the moment can help with this. Because if you have a job, you know how to get into job, you know how to write a CV, you know, how to nail an interview. If you ever had a training contract, you have so much knowledge. Yes, I’ve been listening to your previous episode. So people have been talking about going through this process. Everything you’ve learned now is going to be so valuable now to many people who are struggling at this time. So I would encourage anybody who can, to use the skills of whatever level. So use the skills to help people who find themselves in the out of work or on reduced hours.
Rob Hanna (08:55):
Yeah, no, absolutely. And in terms of companies, um, helping, you know, without, without a fee. I know you’ve also got some interesting ideas, um, with, with regards to that, and maybe more sort of virtual measures, is that right?
Olga Ivannikova (09:07):
Yeah. So, there are different, uh, um, basically we need to go above and beyond at this time, because when this is over and the chancellor says it will be over. We can believe him about this! When it’s over, we will all be judged on how we acted at this time. So, I think that it’s understandable that it’s taking people time to respond, because we worry about our teams in setups first, but more, the more we can do the better, and also putting extra effort into volunteering, into supporting your partners and communities. I think it’s really good for supporting your team and for making your colleagues feel proud about your firm. So as they’re going through this, and as they’re talking to their friends, they can say, well, my firm gives me an opportunity to help at this time. And I think it, I think it’s very important for the, at any time to make sure that their, that their team are happy and their team are engaged, but, uh, this is a really good, uh, good way at this particular moment, I believe. Uh, there’s a digital volunteering at an organization called the Cares Family, where they have different groups, and you can talk to people to all the people by Skype and encourage them to share poems and stories and film recommendations. You can also be a volunteer via an app. Uh, so Be My Eyes is an organization that allows you to volunteer via an app and help people who are visually impaired. So you will become their eyes and you can check the expiry dates for them, or do other things around the house. It’s always a very good idea, but now, particularly now, when people haven’t been able to go out shopping so much, uh, being able to, to help them with that.
Rob Hanna (10:58):
Listen, I think there’s some really great insights and some tips and suggestions there. So thank you very much. And it’s very clear Olga, that you’re exceptionally passionate about sort of, you know, corporate social responsibility. And that that’s kind of key reason as to perhaps why you founded Private Goodness, which is an award-winning CRS consultancy in London. So before we kind of maybe talk a little bit more about that, but you, what do you mean by CSR or responsibility?
Olga Ivannikova (11:24):
I teach, uh, social responsibility. And I always start by saying that companies don’t exist in isolation. Why does this matter? Because we’re not alone? You know, it depends on our communities. We depends on our, on our team and we depend on our environment. We all breathe the same air. So that’s why when we treat, uh, uh, our team and our communities and environment, well, when we act responsibly, it benefits us as well. It benefits everybody. And I, so I’ve been saying that in my class for forever, I feel like it’s really true now. And I think that people understand that even more now, uh, that, uh, how we treat each other really matters and corporate responsibility is just one tool to advance your relationships with it.
Rob Hanna (12:14):
Yeah, no, absolutely. And so how did you sort of get into, to sort of CSR, so talk us through your journey?
Olga Ivannikova (12:21):
Well, I’m from Russia and I moved to England when I was 16 with this idea that I will be a, a human rights lawyer. I was completely naive. And I don’t know where I got an idea of what it looked like, maybe from Legally Blonde, probably! But when I eventually started studying law. Uh, I realize that it’s not quite the same, but I find my law degree very, very, very useful, nonetheless. And I think that actually, other company lawyers, when you tell people, regardless of which area you work in, after you tell people that you studied law, that everybody thinks that you’re really clever. They are like, “Oh, Wow! You studied law, you must be so clever”. That’s so tough. But that’s nice!
Rob Hanna (13:04):
It is though, it is so true! So yeah.
Olga Ivannikova (13:09):
I think lawyers really take it for granted that they’re saying, “Oh, we have a law degree, but you know, some other people have high marks” or “I don’t have the first”, so, you know, kind of feels embarrassed about it, where actually, for everybody else, your achievements at this stage are very impressive. Anyway, so I finished my law degree and then I worked in 2010 and I’ve worked in different charities. So I’ve always been interested in how to, how to make a difference. So I heard that law is one way, then I was involved in politics for a while. And then again, it wasn’t really like the West Wing. But it was very interesting, very interesting experience and community organizing, which I think is going to be useful now as well. And then I worked for a number of charities, so lots of grassroots, uh, local charities, organizing projects, raising money for local businesses in order to fund things like ice-skating for blind children. And you have local businesses get together to put some money in to book an ice rink. So, lovely little projects like that, but, uh, the most relevant, um, for this, was really when I started my work at the National Pro Bono Centre on Chancery Lane. It’s a, it’s, it’s a hub for pro bono organizations. It’s a fantastic place. It has a charities, uh, like Law Works, which is a national pro bono charity for solicitors, where I worked, which is great. Uh, it’s called Advocate, which is sister-charity, a pro bono charity for barristers, uh, Access to Justice Foundation, London Legal Support Trust…All of these organizations working under one roof, sharing an office, uh, doing work every day towards access to justice in the UK. It was such a fun time. So I’ve heard a lot of ideas. You know, I worked in law. I’m very passionate about, about how the importance of the rule of law and things like this. I worked for charities. And then I think I’ll wish really hard for a job that will combine that. And then the Law Works job appeared! It’s true because it’s when I, when I applied for it and I was going through the interview, I remember thinking there couldn’t be a more perfect job for me with all of my experience. And luckily I got, I did get it. And I got some fantastic opportunities there. And my role was all about, uh, managing volunteers and raising money. So, so getting law firms to be involved in pro bono, and we worked with over a hundred law firms. So almost all magic circle, loads and loads of US firms meet the assessed from some banks like Goldman Sachs, Bank of New York, but lots of small organizations as well. So, that gave me an opportunity to interact with them and to talk to them about how they approach pro bono, how they view corporate responsibility and to be able to assist them with that. And that was, yeah, that was amazing. I was there for three years and it was a, it was a really fantastic time. It made me because it was quite an empowerment organization because it was small. I think in smaller organizations sometimes you have more freedom. So, I was used to doing things, uh, on, on, on my own. I mean it was a great team, but if I wanted to do something on my own, I could. So when I was setting up in business, my own business, I felt like I was quite ready. So, my business is not just limited to pro bono. I advise on diversity and inclusion and non-legal volunteering. So, I’m not limited to just pro bono, but it’s really my time at the national pro bono center, which prepared me to do this now.
Rob Hanna (16:43):
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s such a great accolade, what you’ve done and what you’re doing with Private Goodness and all the great work that you’re doing. And I guess one thing to kind of link back with, with some, maybe a lot of our legal professionals listening in, you know, why should lawyers really consider responsibility, give us some, some sort of tips and suggestions around that.
Olga Ivannikova (17:02):
Many reasons. One number one, the reason why law firms contact me is not because they wake up overnight and they say, or they wake up in the morning and think, “Oh, I feel more responsible today”. Usually it’s because their clients include something in there, um, uh, in, in a proposal and it says, uh, if you want, if you wants a bid for work, tell us about your responsibility policy or tell us what you’re doing in this area. Tell us what you’re doing to support the sustainable, the UN Sustainable Development goals and our firms then go, “Oh, well, first of all, we should write something” or they have something and they think “maybe we should work on this area too so, when we prepare it to clients, we know that it is best practice”. So one number one is because clients increasingly want it. And when my training people come to my training, why are you here? “Because our clients ask us about it” is as a number one reason. The second reason I would say is all around recruitment. So, uh, millennials, uh, in particular all say that the ones who work for an organization that shares their values, uh, that, uh, helps others, that is just a good citizen. Um, and lots of law students do pro bono at law school now. So when I was at law school, we didn’t have pro bono schemes. Uh, that’s my excuse. But now those students really…it buys, uh, clients supervised by the, by other solicitors or by their lectures, Uh, they’re used to doing this now, they’re used to volunteering and using their skills. So when they join a firm that wants to continue doing it. So a lot of movement, either comes from people who are new, joining the firms, saying, we want to do this, please give us an opportunity to, or firms that are worried about their recruitment or wants to improve their recruitment and saying, as an offer to people, “when you join our firm, we will give you an opportunity, not just to make profit, to be, to be involved in the profits activities for profit activities, but also help your communities”. And that makes their recruitment offer stronger. One more thing. And this actually is important. It’s about developing skills of lawyers. So what happens when you volunteer? So what lawyers…lawyers are good at many, many, many things, but what we really need to be good at is listening and being able to listen empathetically. And it’s very difficult. And I think when people do pro bono or do non-legal volunteering where they interact with people outside of their usual circle, and that makes them better listeners, that makes them better professionals, and that helps them with their learn new skills as well. And that helps them in everyday work as a lawyer.
Rob Hanna (19:58):
Yeah, no, absolutely. That, that, that’s kind of a thing kind of summarizes very nicely and kind of gives a good flavour for people, particularly, you know, future and sort of past people in the, in the legal section says what’s out and what give me to be thinking about and some of the common themes. So thank you very much for sharing that. I guess the question is sort of a bit more leading on to then how, um, you know, a lot of the how, and then I know you, something else that you talk about generally is, is around sort of networking and, and perhaps networking going, going wrong. So do you want sort of talk a little bit more about the how, and then sort of leading on, so a bit more around what theme there’s a networking going wrong?
Olga Ivannikova (20:35):
Lots of people listening will be, I don’t know, maybe it will be from larger firms who will have a pro bono, uh, or CSR coordinator. Uh, so I think how, uh, the, the first step would be to approach them and find out what’s already happening in your phone and maybe see how you can get involved with existing activities, uh, for anybody listening. And if there aren’t any to offer, to give a hand in developing them…If you want to do pro bono, you can have a look at the National Pro Bono centre website, and you can contact your local law centre or your local legal clinic, our local community centre, you know, depending on the area for volunteering opportunities, but do be patients with them at the moment as they are updating their services on how it can work online. It can take a little while, but you can tell them this you’re there now and for environment. And, you know, we are in the middle of the pandemic, we are worried about these things, but the topic of environments is still there. And for that, there was an organization called The Legal Sustainability Alliance and they have a membership scheme but they have three tips on their website on how to be more environmentally friendly. So you can have a look at them and share them either if you have a relevant person in your organization, or if it’s smaller organization, share it with your team now. So you can always contact me. And I can send you a checklist of the things that you should, you could consider about corporate responsibility with the best practice.
Rob Hanna (22:01):
Okay. And just as we sort of wrap up, is there a couple of sort of examples you’d like to give? I know we’re sort of stressing throughout this theme, which is great, but this time around pro bono advice, um, particularly related to the sort of current, uh, the current situation is this sort of just one example or a couple of examples you give as we sort of wrap up for, uh, for our listeners.
Olga Ivannikova (22:22):
Another thing that I want to say about mental health, and this is a very worrying time at the moment, and even people who perhaps you didn’t think would have any mental health issues before, I think we all need more, uh, attention at the moment. So I would encourage everybody to have a look at mind and their website and search for more information on mental health and how we can stay well and share it, share this resources, uh, with your, uh, with your team and, uh, with other people who you care about.
Rob Hanna (22:58):
So, Olga, I know you do a lot of work, um, with regards to networking and, and one of the other things that you’re really sort of helpful, um, in helping people around is online, ethical networking jobs. Do you want to tell us more about that?
Olga Ivannikova (23:10):
Yes. So I have, uh, last year I started a project and online project called Networking Gone Wrong, which is all about ethical and inclusive networking. And I thought, how do we learn about this? And one way is to ask people for examples of unethical networking and people have come to me with loads and loads of examples, and I have brought them all together and commissioned an illustrator to illustrate them. So, and created a course around it, but now I’m expanding it further to do training on online etiquette. So I think the more time we spend online and more time our teams spend online, I think everyone should be aware of ethical of doing so ethically. And the, the main principle of it really is just to be more, is to be kinder and more compassionate than ever before. And aware that people might be stressed out and to basically spread positive vibes rather than arguing with people.
Rob Hanna (24:14):
No, I think you’re right. Particularly at this time when we’re all in this together is even more so important online that people, you know, are very kind to one another, you know, stay positive and, you know, the ethics of it all. Absolutely. So I think that’s really, really insightful. So, um, you know, it’s good to know for people to know that that is out there and that’s a service out there that people can sort of get training on if you like, um, in terms of making sure that it’s also good for their personal brand, but also just in line with just general the kindness of the wider communities.
Olga Ivannikova (24:43):
Yeah. Thank you!
Rob Hanna (24:44):
So just from your side, just lastly, um, Olga, do you have any final comments that you would like to share with our, uh, our listeners in light of the current situation?
Olga Ivannikova (24:55):
I want to read a quote from the, from an article from the Harvard Business Review, if you don’t mind, which I think sums up what I am trying to say much better than I can. It says: “if at this time, if you lead with compassion, you will touch the lives of your employees in an extraordinary way and come out of this potential slowdown stronger than ever before enhancing the shared values of your team”. I think it’s a great quote, uh, for, uh, what we need to do at the moment. So I think that lots of law firms and loads of us have been talking about our values and now is really the time for us to act on them and not just support our team and our clients, but our wider communities. So I’ll encourage everyone to, uh, lead with compassion. And to remember that we are all in this together, I am available. Uh, so I’m happy to talk to anybody for free, uh, via Zoom for half an hour to an hour. If anybody is thinking about their community response to the situation, because as you say, we keep saying we’re all in this together, so we should all, uh, use our skills to help where we can. And finally, thank you very much, Rob, for inviting me. I’m so glad to have an opportunity to share, to share some thoughts. And to everybody listening, uh, stay safe.
Rob Hanna (26:22):
Yeah, no, absolutely. It’s been, it has been an absolute pleasure, but I think your insights have been exceptionally helpful. I mean, I’ve taken a hell of a lot of weight from our discussion, so, so it’s an absolute pleasure having you on the podcast. Um, and just to echo what you say, lets all stay safe for everybody, let’s get through this together. Um, and yeah, I’m sure there’ll be some additional content we will be pushing out on this in due course as well, just to help one another, but many thanks once again Olga. You stay safe and no doubt we’ll have you on the podcast in the near future soon.
Olga Ivannikova (26:52):
Thank you very much.