City firm Mishcon de Reya has launched an advisory service for companies wanting to build “more sustainable and resilient” businesses as they emerge from the coronavirus crisis.
Mishcon Purpose provides environmental, social and governance (ESG) advice to companies seeking a purpose beyond shareholder value.
Alexander Rhodes, head of Mishcon Purpose, said the law firm had been working on the new service for nine months before launching it last month.
He said it was “not our intention to launch during a pandemic”, but the “shock of the crisis” had given firms an opportunity to reassess themselves.
“As the pandemic has played out, firms have gone from shock to planning for a world without Covid-19.
“Companies and investment funds built around the principles of ESG have shown themselves to be more resilient during the downturn and are expected to bounce back faster and stronger.
“Now is the time for businesses to take stock of who they are and where they are going. Plenty of companies are looking at their risk registers and crisis planning and realising they could have done things differently.”
Mr Rhodes said ESG issues needed to be dealt with holistically, and the “natural place” for clients to go was their law firm, but lawyers had until now “not educated themselves to advise on these issues”.
He said Mischon Purpose had an internal aspect, in that all the firm’s lawyers needed a good appreciation of ESG issues to be able to advise clients.
The law firm said it is planning internal initiatives to improve sustainability, “including a commitment to be net carbon-zero this year and every year”.
Mr Rhodes said companies needed to go through “transitional thinking” as they moved from a ‘business plus CSR [corporate social responsibility]’ model to becoming socially responsible businesses.
He said this could be a struggle, as ESG issues were “so broad” and the regulatory landscape was changing so fast.
Mr Rhodes said the Big Four accountants had offered clients sustainability and climate change services for several years, but not combined it with corporate governance.
As well as considering the regulatory risks faced by businesses, he hoped to offer them the opportunity to participate in shaping regulatory frameworks through advocacy and public affairs.
A litigator, Mr Rhodes acts for businesses and families, often in complex multi-jurisdictional disputes with “reputational aspects”.
He founded the charity Stop Ivory, is head of the secretariat to the inter-governmental Elephant Protection Initiative and a trustee and co-chair of the strategic projects committee of Tusk Trust.
He said that the world had known about climate change for years, but despite the European heatwaves that killed thousands, the recent floods in the UK and the fact Australia was “on fire”, we had not “got the bit between our teeth” in taking action at the corporate and governmental level.
“The pandemic has shown us what a real crisis looks like and how fragile the world we have made is.
“It has forced people to take dramatic action. We have put human lives first, above the needs of our economy, and have shown we can adapt much faster than we thought. Businesses can change using ESG values and they need to change.”
James Libson, managing partner of Mishcon de Reya, added: “We have been preparing this for a long time now and though the COVID-19 pandemic is understandably dominating our lives, we have decided not to postpone the launch. Investing in this area is even more critical now.”