The Chasm Between BLM and Lawyers: Part I

During this 50 minute conversation, I sit down virtually with two lawyers who are intimately involved in social justice in Minneapolis. Travis Kowitz is white man, shot by a pepper bullet while live streaming the first two nights of the protests after George Floyd’s murder. Emily Cooper is a black woman pushing the cause of entrepreneurship to Minneapolis’ black community as the path to financial and personal freedom. Both are gritty, ambitious, lightly profane, and deeply committed to the part lawyers can play in the movement for social justice. We spend time talking through the history of systemic racism, specifically in Minneapolis.

From a lawyer marketing perspective, get inspired with some of the tactical approaches these two have taken in getting deeply involved in the community. My hope is that by listening to this, you may be inspired to go beyond carefully worded statements and donations and get more involved.

“words are just words, but when I take notice its about what actions people take behind the words; because words are just pandering.  Is anyone actually doing anything?” – Emily Cooper

The focus of this series is exposing the huge gap between the Black Lives Matter movement and lawyers, many of whom went into the profession specifically to advance the cause of social justice. We talk with hands-on, driven lawyers who are actively involved, on the streets in their communities, far beyond making bail fund donations or publishing carefully worded statements of support. We challenge the trepidations felt by many lawyers, starting with “I don’t want to say the wrong thing.” This is a raw, uncomfortable, and oftentimes painful dialogue that needs to happen. You won’t agree with everything you hear; you’ll probably feel offended. All the more reason to listen.

Lawyers and Cops and BLM and Branding

This started as my musings around police as a brand, but quickly begged the question: why is the lawyer brand so tarnished even in light of today’s social justice movement?

I’m not sure how the police, as a brand, evolve past this. Even making the fallacious assumptions that next week America unifies and completely solves social justice issues and 100% reforms the police force…how does the public see a blue uniform and a badge and not immediately associate those things with anything other than murdering black men, teargassing protestors, abandoning their offices, assaulting the elderly and shooting the homeless in wheelchairs? The word uniform serves two purposes here: the police uniform is part of the brand and it encourages us to apply the same perspective uniformly to all police officers. Whether you argue this is an issue of a “few bad apples” or believe it’s a result of the systemic militarization of the cops, public sentiment around all police will be applied uniformly. That is the function of brand: setting expectations of what you are going to get – i.e. you have a very clear and set expectation about what you are going to get when you order an Egg McMuffin or drive an Audi R8 or use tax services from H&R Block.  And right now, what America is getting across the country from the police brand is disgusting.  
 
And yes, I fully grok that my white male perspective on policing has evolved dramatically over the past 2 weeks, that many communities have always associated the police brand with fear and violence and that that evolution is a large part of the point of today’s movement.
 
I go back to the future of the police… If they were any other brand – a car, a fashion line, an airline, a power tool, they’d be shelved immediately because of what is now indelibly and universally linked to that brand. There would be no attempt to recover, evolve, and adjust the positioning and messaging.

Lawyers as a Brand

I spent the first two nights of the Minneapolis protests watching a livestream of attorney Travis Kowitz who was on the streets and watched by tens of thousands via Facebook.  Travis’ feed was through his law firm’s Facebook page – it was clear he was an attorney and as I texted back and forth with him I noted how many of the comments on his feed pushed an alarming and frequently violent anti-lawyer vitriol.  This was a man doing what I’ve been pushing lawyers to do in many circumstances – getting deeply and intimately involved in the community and tacking flack for being a lawyer.  Many of you went into this profession to make the world a better place and yet, lawyers are frequently seen as part of the problem, not part of the solution.  As a non-lawyer, working in legal for 15 years, I’ve been afforded a unique insider’s view into the good lawyers do.  We’ve codified this in our agency’s 10 Commandments – even presciently calling out police brutality.

  1. We Love Lawyers – Attorneys, especially those who represent individuals, are the primary counterbalance to corporate greed and the widespread abuse of police and political power and the abusive insurance industry. We are honored to play a small role in this system.
The lawyer brand is frequently unfairly painted with negative connotations – a cruel irony – and yes this is painting with unfairly broad brush strokes, which is what happens every time we generalize – police or lawyers. Here’s just a smattering of the anti-lawyer commentary on Travis’s feed those first three nights:
\
I’d encourage you, at this moment to take the opportunity to get deeply involved in your community – well beyond a law firm donation to bail for protestors or a carefully worded statement on your law firm’s social media profiles. There’s a lot that can be done that goes beyond these gestures.

Inspiration for the Lawyer Brand…

To offer some new perspective and perhaps provide a small dose of inspiration, I’m hosting a webinar this Friday with two Minneapolis lawyers who are deeply and intimately involved in social justice – Travis Kowitz and Emily Cooper – in the first part of our series on the Chasm Between BLM and Lawyers. Register here to join us and listen. The conversation will be raw, uncomfortable and you probably won’t love everything you hear.