Choosing a law firm that walks the talk on sustainability

The legal profession is hard-wired to establish what is fact and what is fiction. Yet in a world in which Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations are today a critical business imperative, how can those choosing legal providers really distinguish between reality and rhetoric when it comes to ESG performance?

Simon Clark, General Counsel, Walker Morris
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Talking the walk or walking the talk?

Anybody can create a policy; it’s the implementation that really matters. And while ”we commit to [insert your ESG goal of choice here]“ sounds like a noble promise, without real action they’re just empty words.

A simple place to start is to examine how a legal firm addresses ESG issues internally. Do they have committees or steering groups? How involved are senior leaders in ensuring that sustainability is embedded into the firm’s culture? And what are the outputs of these groups? Is there measurable progress and are future goals identified?

Looking for proof, not PR

Any firm should be able to provide key metrics that demonstrate not only commitment, but also progress. For example:

ESG performance reporting

Law firms that take ESG seriously regularly report their performance in environmental, social, and governance areas. This reporting should be transparent and easily accessible, demonstrating the firm’s commitment to continuous improvement. Look beyond the words and focus on progress against targets. At Walker Morris we publish an annual Positive Impact report. This outlines how we’re performing against our commitments, both in terms of where we are on track to meet our sustainability objectives, and where we need to continue to improve.

Diversity and inclusion

Diverse and inclusive workforces better understand diverse client bases. What’s more, they’re more innovative and creative, which in turn enhances problem solving and decision-making. Most important of all, they’re ultimately able to draw on more talent by offering opportunities to the best people, whatever their background.

Concrete measures to achieve more diverse and inclusive teams include the use of blind recruitment practices to reduce unconscious or conscious bias, such as blocking out a candidate’s personal information, with their names replaced with a number and their university redacted. How firms support their people also plays an important role. Groups can be set up, for instance, to support individuals from different backgrounds, events sponsored that promote diversity and inclusion, and safe and inclusive spaces provided. Three small steps that can all have a big impact.

If you’re looking for more guidance on how to get diversity and inclusion right in your organisation, explore our resource here.

Environmental footprint

Ask for evidence of the firm’s efforts to reduce its environmental footprint, such as energy efficiency, waste reduction, and sustainable procurement practices. When, for example, are they planning to achieve net zero? Have they had their plans validated by the Science Based Targets Initiative, or are planning on doing so? At Walker Morris, we’re working towards SBTi validation of our Net Zero strategy. Does this mean we’re perfect in this regard? Absolutely not. But it does demonstrate a real, sustained commitment and a clear direction of travel.

Look also for external recognition from third parties for the law firm’s performance – be it awards, rankings, or certifications.

Pro bono and community engagement

Examine the firm’s pro bono work and involvement in community initiatives. A law firm that’s committed to ESG will actively contribute to the social wellbeing of the communities in which it operates. These activities may range from outreach programs at local schools to providing community support via pro bono work and working with local charitable initiatives.

Strong governance and compliance

This is not surprisingly a key area on which lawyers are, by nature, focussed. While it can feel like a lot of hoops to jump through when lawyers undertake stringent anti-money laundering and other checks with outside parties, this is really a just a sign that they’re fulfilling their responsibilities in a professional manner.

Better together

Ensuring you choose a law firm that’s meeting its ESG obligations is important not only in terms of partnering with an ethical organisation but can also be beneficial in terms of bolstering your own efforts. Examples include running joint community events (particularly if you’re in the same city) and joint D&I events, establishing networking groups, and sharing best practices. Working together in this way gives you the opportunity to deliver an even more positive impact for your people, your community and the world at large, as well as creating new and enjoyable ways to establish and nurture a strong and cooperative relationship with your legal counsel. Ask your law firm how you can work together. No-one has got this 100% right, and collaborating is a great way to learn from each other and ensure your efforts are greater than the sum of their parts.

“Ensuring you choose a law firm that’s meeting its ESG obligations is important not only in terms of partnering with an ethical organisation, but can also be beneficial in terms of bolstering your own efforts.”

Simon Clark, General Counsel
An array of sustainable panels and sundown