Desert Pirates – What Were We Thinking?

October 14, 2020 /

Our firm has a history of bold and (to some) controversial print ads.  We look forward to these biennial campaigns.  They are an important way for us to communicate who we are and showcase our evolution over time.  We build them around what has become a repeating and significant event for us: being named one of Canada’s Top 10 Corporate Boutiques by Canadian Lawyer (6 years running!).

Our most current effort went to print today in the October edition of Canadian Lawyer.  This is the third in a trilogy showing the progression of MT+Co over time.  The original (“Lawyers and Horses”) was focused on the theme of “Trailblazing”.  It was about our firm carving a new path: a full-service firm (the best of Big-Law) based on human connection and better process (the best of Small-Law).  The second (“Lawyers and Helicopters”) was focused on the theme of “Storming the Corporate World”, signalling that our growing firm was taking on Big-Law in their own backyard and boldly offering our unique brand of full-service, human-centric and process-driven advice to “blue chip” clients.

This latest version focuses on our commitment to work tirelessly as a team to navigate all of the uncertainty in the world today: pandemics, economic downturns, climate emergencies, systemic racism, class dynamics and divisive politics (to name a few).  The theme, which we put careful thought into, is: “With You Through Unprecedented Times”.  In our minds, this theme embodies three core commitments we have made since the spring of 2020.

First, “with you” is a commitment to support our communities.  In particular, we want to lead a conversation about the role of lawyers and law firms in the face of unprecedented times.  Members of our communities have been hard-hit, and lawyers have access to the knowledge and tools to help.  Traditionally, law firms have held this knowledge and these tools closely.  But now is the time for these traditions to change and for our profession to stretch in ways we haven’t before. Now is the time for lawyers to drop the billable hour and look for ways to help the people and organizations that support us in good times.  Now is the time for us to stick our necks out, take some risks, remind ourselves of our professional obligation to serve, and try something new that is intended to help.  For us, this has taken the form of MT Access, a platform we built to provide pro-bono and low-bono legal products to entrepreneurs and businesses that need it – including a free incorporation service for anyone who has been laid off and is looking to start their own business.  We are part of a profession with a proud history of public service, and we want to do what we can as an organization to make a positive impact on others.  This initiative is one of the ways we are “with you through unprecedented times”, and the hope is that our print ad serves as a call to action to other professional service organizations to use their particular areas of expertise to be of service when we’re needed the most.

Second, “with you” is a commitment to do better in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion and reconciliation. We are committed to moving the needle in a meaningful way and have allocated $100,000 to DE+I initiatives (which, incidentally, is a larger percentage of revenue than Nike’s commitment). As a Canadian business that has the privilege of serving Indigenous people, we are also committed to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and our own Reconciliation Action Plan which calls on us to play a meaningful role in reconciliation in Canada.  In this regard, 2020 has seen us actively create opportunities for Indigenous legal students in partnership with our clients and to continue to support the University of Victoria’s Joint Indigenous Degree Program through our Leonard George Memorial Indigenous Law Scholar Award, and to support inclusion in sport through our partnership with the Vancouver Warriors that provides 24 seats to each game and 20 spots at the Warriors’ development camp to Indigenous youth.  “With you” is a public commitment both to make ourselves better and to use our platform to make Canada better.  We encourage other firms to do the same.

Third, “with you” is an internal commitment take care of our people. In March, our ownership group (which, by the way, is all of our lawyers) decided to backstop our promise of job security through the pandemic to every member of our team (which we coined “no teamperson left behind”) by taking a voluntary salary deferral.  The remainder of the year has seen us increase our mental health benefits, improve the flexibility of our benefits package to ensure people have coverage that makes sense for their families right now, secure firm-wide access to online medical and mental health professionals, and to implement tools to monitor each others’ mental health in real time.  We strongly believe that we will all emerge from these unprecedented times, and “with you” is a commitment to our team that we will do it together.

As for the imagery, this too was intentional.  The dystopian visual is bold and potentially controversial. The last thing we want to do is trivialize the challenges real people are facing right now, and the second last thing we want to do is offend the world with another clumsy attempt at “empathy marketing” (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch just about any insurance or bank ad on TV right now).  But it was important for us to be honest – 2020 has been rough, feels a bit like a Mad Max movie and everyone on our team is, like the rest of the world, struggling to find our way.  We wanted to candidly acknowledge these raw feelings because if we don’t, we let all of the uncertainty win.

So this was the right visual for us: it’s not about us wanting our clients to see us as a powerful army of renegades that will do what it takes to support them through their current challenges (but it’s OK if they do); it’s about our team pulling together in unprecedented times based on our commitments to our communities and our clients and our love of each other.

And finally, while the photoshoot was socially distanced and safe, it was also a lot of fun, which if we’re not careful is something that is lost in today’s mostly-remote work environments.  It also gave us something that is hard to come by right now: a shared experience.  We were all excited to share stories of our time in the studio in our Zoom calls.  We were all smiling and felt like we had recaptured some of the pre-pandemic magic and connection we all enjoyed before this year, and that we had found positivity, purpose and humour in these “unprecedented times”.  So while there is serious intention behind our decision to run this particular ad at this particular moment, we hope that others see the lightness – after all, we are talking about an ad with a group of legal professionals dressed in ridiculous desert-pirate outfits.  We hope that in a small way this absurdity inspires others to remember that we can’t take ourselves too seriously and it’s important to find the positive even in unprecedented times.