How a Little Rock Law Firm Set the Precedent for Taking Time and Giving Back

As part of its progressive service culture, law firm Mitchell Williams makes time to take time.

Through its primary community service initiative “Take Time to Give,” Mitchell Williams annually provides selected charities with volunteer hours, monetary donations and pro bono work, all in the spirit of founding partner Maurice Mitchell.

“To me it’s one of the reasons I’m at Mitchell Williams,” says associate and Take Time to Give chair Mary Catherine Way. “I wouldn’t work for another law firm.”

Founded in 1954, the firm — formally known as Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodward — has been organizing volunteer activities since 2004 when it celebrated its 50th anniversary. That year Mitchell asked the staff to donate 50 hours of service time, which added up to more than 8,000 hours.

Mitchell passed away in 2011, but the commitment to service continues full throttle. Efforts have grown to include monetary donations along with volunteer service, and today the firm and its offices in Rogers and Austin, Texas, select specific charities as recipients of the annual altruism.

As Take Time to Give chair and head of the attorney staff committee, Way helps pare down the list of nonprofits from which Mitchell Williams selects its annual recipients.

This year’s selectees are the Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp, chosen by the Little Rock office; The Boys & Girls Club of Benton County, selected by the Rogers office; and Carrying Hope, which provides comfort items to children entering the foster care system in central Texas, and was chosen by the office in Austin, Texas.

Past recipients include Camp Aldersgate, Horses for Healing, The Center for Exceptional Families, Project Zero, Fostering Hope, Arkansas Foodbank and Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arkansas, among others.

“Typically it goes to someone who is very organized and has an idea how we can help and how the funds will be used,” Way says.

When she clerked at Mitchell Williams in 2005, it was then Way first experienced its community service spirit, something she says was “an obvious center point of the firm.”

She returned in 2007 in time to see Take Time to Give evolve. Today, Way says, Mitchell Williams’ culture of service is particularly attractive to young professionals fresh out of law school and has permeated the firm’s recruiting efforts.

Celebrating its 65th anniversary this year, the Mitchell Williams staff is also revisiting some of the past recipients to donate additional volunteer time. Often, Way says, Mitchell Williams associates and staff will develop a fondness for an annual selectee and continue to assist after that year’s project concludes.

Some of the charity work is more hands-on than others. For example, Way and a co-worker dipped into their collegiate basketball experience to help coach basketball during the firm’s service to the Boys & Girls Club.

“Eight-year-old boys are more intense than I thought,” she says.

Whether it’s hands-on or through donations, Way says the devotion to service gives Mitchell Williams a moral and ethical heart, lends a face to the firm in the community and, hopefully, combats the negative stereotype of the greedy, ethically-challenged lawyer.

“The culture of the firm is what it is because of Mr. Mitchell,” she says, “and it’s something we want to see live on.”

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