Reflections on Serving Nonprofits

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At year’s end, we often reflect on lessons learned and experiences shared, and also on those people and the things for which we are grateful. In a break from our usual fare, what follows is a more personal reflection from our law firm’s attorney Jonathan Hwang on some aspects of the unique nature and culture of Wagenmaker & Oberly.

Transformational, Not Merely Transactional

I regularly experience a culture at Wagenmaker & Oberly which seeks to be transformational, rather than merely transactional. Many of our clients are engaged in their own work because they want to renew society and the world for the better, in one way or another. Our practice of law reflects that desire: we want to transform the world by helping our clients do what they do best.

I joined this firm because I believe that the nonprofit sector has a vital role to play in the health of a robust civil society. The government plays its role in creating and protecting the conditions of human flourishing. But government alone cannot provide answers to all questions, nor is it the solution to all problems.

Instead, in addition to the government’s important role, the nonprofit sector facilitates a vast array of mediating institutions to assist in seeking solutions and persuading others to help. Nonprofits’ inquiry, engagement, and action help curtail the power of government—for the good of the state, as well as its citizens. Thus, nonprofits play a vital role in the health of human society by standing between the powerful state and the principled individual. Through nonprofits, citizens may engage culture and work together for the betterment of humanity, by respecting structural restraints on our baser human tendencies, and by protecting the freedom to advocate and persuade, act in accordance with principle, conscience, and belief, and to dissent from the opinions of others. We can respect deep differences while we move forward together and seek the good of humanity.

At our firm, we offer excellent and trusted legal counsel to enable our nonprofit clients to better engage in the public square and work in a variety of ways to change the world. We are privileged to join with them in this great mission. As I tell my children (and anyone who asks), it is deeply rewarding to help people help people.

The Context of Community

We do not do this work alone. Indeed, one of the central purposes of the nonprofit sector is to harness the strengths of a pluralistic society. Here at our firm, we are very cognizant of the strength and necessity of community.

At Wagenmaker & Oberly, we take a collaborative, team-oriented approach to our legal projects and matters, to leverage each team member’s unique experiences, gifts, and strengths, and thus to efficiently deliver increased and improved value to our clients. We also invite our team members’ families to join the firm in its mission.

I recently spoke to students from across the country at the annual Sexuality, Integrity, and the University Conference hosted at Princeton University by the Love and Fidelity Network—a national organization which seeks to educate students and others about the unique role of the family in society, among other things. In preparing my remarks about the interaction between career and family, and some inherent tensions, I reflected on the way our firm navigates the issue traditionally known as “work-life balance.”

I realized that the culture promoted at our firm is much less about “balancing” work and life, and instead about seeing how our time spent at work and our time spent outside of work are two parts of a greater whole. Our legal team helps organizations, institutions, and individuals help others and transform the world.  We then look to do that same work as individuals and members of our own particular communities when we leave the office. This is especially true as I do the “work” of the institution of my family. The family is a powerful culture-shaping institution oriented towards the very future of humanity.  Aligning the work of the office with the work of the family can have far-reaching effects. This is also true for many other rich and robust communities which we all comprise.

And so, our firm is not just “family-friendly.” Instead the firm prioritizes the development of relationships with the family members of our whole team, because there is an understanding that they are a part of this work too. Family members are impacted by the work we do both directly and indirectly—through material provision, by the amount and manner of time spent at the office and away from it, and by the cultural impact of our clients.

Conclusion – The Ecology of Flourishing

Thus, our firm seeks to respect the ecology of flourishing. If the families of our team members flourish, then so will the team members. As team members flourish, they will be able to deliver more value to our clients, who will in turn do what they do best. The consequences of their work will be felt at various levels of community and society—and ultimately the ripples of our clients’ actions will affect our families.

We are all in this together, and we each have our part to play. Here at Wagenmaker & Oberly, we are grateful for each one of our team members, our families, our clients, and the social institutions which protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of human flourishing. We could not do what we do without them, and we are privileged to be a part of their work in the world.