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Why Your Law Firm Needs to Get on Board with Sustainability (or Get Left Behind)

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Listen up, lawyers! With your clients now demanding that their legal partners take a stance on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) matters, law firms that fail to implement a sustainability strategy risk losing their competitive advantage. You’re not going to be one of them if you’re here! In this article, we explore the compelling business case for sustainability in the legal industry and suggest a powerful step towards achieving it: becoming a Pure Air Zone.

The rise of sustainability in law firms: why it's time to take notice

The concept of sustainability has gained traction in recent years. The legal industry is not exempt from this trend. Let’s take a look at some facts.

  • In a survey conducted by the Law Society Gazette, 82% of respondents said that they would like to see more law firms prioritising sustainability.

  • Collaboration initiatives in the legal field with the topic of sustainability are multiplying. An example is Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy, an initiative launched in part by Stanford Law School in 2018, that pairs participating firms with sustainability-focused entrepreneurs and nonprofits that need pro bono legal services.

  • Many law firms are opening new branches to give advice on sustainability-related matters. Linklaters is a global law firm with a dedicated sustainability team that provides legal advice on various environmental and social issues. In 2020, the firm also launched a new service called "Sustainable Finance and Investment," which focuses on advising clients on sustainable financing and investment opportunities.

  • Other firms, such as Norton Rose Fulbright have implemented a number of initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint and promote sustainable practices within the firm, ending up being recognised for their efforts in this area, including being named to the FTSE4Good Index for the 11th year in a row.

  • Legal organisations are not totally new to sustainability reporting: for example, Gianni & Origoni was the first in Italy to publish a social report that includes the ESG sustainability strategy and has created a 360-degree coverage plan covering environment, people, and governance through the GOP Cares project.

  • The business law firm Gattai,Minoli,Partners has published its first Sustainability Report with the aim of representing and reporting on the various initiatives launched in 2022, as well as its commitment to different stakeholders. The Report began with a materiality analysis, conducted among 150 internal resources, including associates and staff, 25 partners, and 90 domestic and international clients, in order to understand the priorities to be addressed to meet the expectations of all stakeholders, internal to the firm or external.

You might think a collective environmental consciousness is building up. Hopefully. But there’s a different reason for the sustainability imperative for law firms: those who fail to prioritise sustainability may be left behind in terms of attracting investment and clients.

6 (at least) benefits of sustainability for law firms

Implementing a sustainability strategy can bring important competitive advantages to law firms, including the following benefits.

Attracting and retaining clients

Clients are increasingly looking for law firms that prioritise sustainability. In a survey conducted by the Legal Sustainability Alliance, 72% of respondents said that they would be more likely to use a law firm that can demonstrate a commitment to sustainability.

Attracting and retaining talents

Younger generations are increasingly concerned about environmental issues, and are more likely to want to work for companies that prioritise sustainability. It takes a long time to turn junior legal trainees into mature consultants. Why lose them after so much effort and money and time invested?

Opening new markets

Law firms can open new branches consulting on environmental-related topics and projects. Read the next paragraph for some references.

Reducing costs

By reducing their environmental impact, law firms can also reduce their costs. For example, implementing energy-efficient lighting and equipment can lead to significant savings on energy bills.

Improving reputation

Law firms that prioritise sustainability can improve their reputation both within the legal industry and with the wider public. The adoption of sustainable practices is becoming an important factor in the choice of a lawyer.

Ensuring people continuity and customer experience

For example, a healthy work environment where people breathe clean air can prevent cross-contamination.

Walk the talk: “sustainable lawyering” calls for consistency

In order to make it work, though, you should look at the business case of sustainable lawyering from both sides, the profit side and the investment side.

Sustainability is clearly opening new market opportunities for law firms. Below are some of the examples.

  • Consulting on sustainable finance and investment opportunities, such as green bonds, sustainable loans, and impact investing. A case study here is Allen & Overy advised on the issuance of Africa's first sovereign green bond, which raised $500 million for environmental projects.

  • Opening new branches on environmental law and providing legal advice on environmental laws, helping clients comply with these regulations, and representing clients in environmental litigation. For example, ClientEarth is a UK-based law firm that specialises in environmental law and has successfully challenged governments and companies on their environmental policies.

Interestingly, going green at a law firm tends to become a way of being. This mindset typically opens the door to a wide range of ESG-related projects.

This is why some law firms, for example, such as Marque Lawyers or Sustainable Law Group Inc. are Certified B Corporation.

If this does not happen, there’s an important aspect to consider. If you talk green, your customers will expect you to be so. It’s a matter of brand consistency and credibility.

So, if your organisation is entering the environmental side of the law business, the investment side can not be ignored. But where to start from?

5 ways to stand out in a crowded market by embracing sustainability

Sustainability is a journey that requires a roadmap. There’s not a single recipe as every company is different. However, we can suggest five sweet spots and starting points, the first of which is a plug&play solution that will amplify your ESG goals immediately.

1. Pure Air Zone, clean-air-as a service: becoming a Pure Air Zone is an all-in-one solution, providing clean air to your staff and teams and keeping them safe, decontaminating the air, measuring and demonstrating the impact of your investment, reinforcing the purpose of your brand and promoting it to a community of environmental sensitive companies and people.

2. Renewable Energy: law firms can switch to renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, to reduce their carbon footprint.

Example: CMS UK installed solar panels on the roof of their London office, generating clean energy .

3. Sustainable Transportation: law firms can encourage employees to use sustainable transportation options, such as cycling, public transport, or electric vehicles.

Example: Pinsent Masons provides employees with access to electric vehicle charging points in their office car park.

4. Sustainable Buildings: a big opportunity comes from designing or retrofitting their buildings to be more sustainable, such as installing energy-efficient lighting, insulation, HVAC systems and air purification services.

Example: Eversheds Sutherland's Manchester office was retrofitted with energy-efficient LED lighting, resulting in a reduction in energy consumption.

5. Sustainable Procurement: law firms can adopt sustainable procurement practices, such as purchasing products made from recycled materials or from suppliers with strong sustainability credentials.

Example: DLA Piper has a sustainable procurement policy that requires suppliers to meet specific environmental and social criteria, such as reducing their carbon footprint and ensuring fair labour practices.

Future-proof your law firm

Are you still wondering how to promote sustainability inside your organisation?

Here’s what you should tell your board

  • The demand for sustainable practices is rapidly growing

  • Consumers are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on a company's sustainability practices

  • By embracing sustainability, you can attract and retain clients and talents who prioritise sustainability and stand out in a competitive market.

Plus, the benefits of sustainability for law firms go beyond just financial gain. By adopting sustainable practices, you are contributing to a better world for future generations. As a legal professional, you have a unique opportunity to advocate for sustainability and make a difference in your community and beyond.

Sustainable practices are key to standing out in a competitive market - be a leader, not a follower.



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