Balancing profit with purpose: Brabners becomes largest law firm B Corp

Lewis: Status will increase credibility

North-west practice Brabners has become the largest – and only the third– UK law firm with B Corporation status, meaning it has committed to balancing profit with purpose.

It joins London firms Bates Wells and Radiant Law in getting through the rigorous certification procedure.

B Corps, with B standing for ‘Benefit’, are for-profit businesses that meet “the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose”.

Brabners has around 250 lawyers and 400 staff based at offices in Liverpool, Manchester and Preston. Corporate partner Simon Lewis led the certification process – he is also head of sustainability and the environmental green group.

He said he discussed the idea with chief executive Robert White and managing partner Nik White in the autumn of 2020, and they decided to go ahead.

“Sustainability has become much more of a question on our clients’ minds. Being able to show that you are a B Corp gives them peace of mind.”

Mr Lewis said it would also help when it came to the “really difficult” issue of how to attract and retain talent, particularly young lawyers.

“The next generation is looking not just at the pay, but at the impact of what they do. When you’re trying to attract people, a lot of firms end up saying the same thing. The B Corp status will increase our credibility and that is a big benefit.”

Mr Lewis said the explosion of interest in B Corp status in the UK, and the growth in numbers from 300 in 2020 to 1,000 in 2022, meant that the organisation lacked capacity to process applications and Brabners was in a queue for over a year.

He said changing the firm’s partnership deed – committing the firm to making a “material positive impact on society and the environment” – was not particularly demanding because of the advice provided by B Lab, the B Corp organisation.

The hardest aspect of the process was documenting what the firm already did. “We were behaving in a way that would have got us points, but we couldn’t demonstrate it. We had to formalise policies, such as on procurement. We always chose green energy, but we needed to write it down.”

Bates Wells was the first UK law firm to become a B Corp in 2015, followed in 2020 by Radiant Law. Mishcon de Reya joined them in August 2021, but after only seven months withdrew from the initiative.

Martin Bunch, managing partner of Bates Wells, explained at last year’s Legal Futures Innovation Conference how the firm has a ‘reputational risk group’ that met twice a month to consider new clients and potentially reject them for ethical reasons.

Mr Lewis said the “general ethos” of Brabners meant that the firm did not target certain clients, but he “could see the merit” in having such a committee.

He said the possibility of individual lawyers objecting to working with certain clients for ethical reasons had not, as far as he knew, come up, partly because the firm’s client base was “not that controversial”.

On the issue of the firm’s pension fund, which Mr Bunch described as “the most important decision” a law firm could take on sustainability, Mr Lewis said the firm was reviewing its approach.

Brabners announced plans last month to invest £50,000 in a peatland restoration project in the Yorkshire Dales.

Mr Lewis said 25 volunteers from the firm would be going to Kingsdale Head farm to plant trees later this month, and the farm’s owners would be talking to the firm next week.

Mr White added: “Achieving B Corp status represents a significant milestone on the start of our ESG journey, and we are looking forward to the huge opportunity to tap into the knowledge base of the B Lab network, and to contributing to the development of the B Corp movement in the coming years.

“To be the first UK law firm outside London to be accredited is a privilege and I am hopeful that we will be joined by many others, in the near future.”

Serena Wallace-Turner, a director at Radiant Law, will be speaking about her firm’s B Corp status at next month’s Legal Futures Innovation Conference. Early bird tickets are currently available.

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