Law firms “must showcase how they make the world better”

Williams: Lawyers should embrace the ESG concept

Law firms wanting to recruit the best young lawyers must showcase how they make “the world a better place”, a report on the post-pandemic legal services landscape has said.

Their ability to advise clients on such work could at the same time open up new work opportunities for commercial lawyers.

The report, by legal consultancy Jomati, said the existing ESG (environmental, social, governance) framework would take on particular importance in the “build back better” post-pandemic world.

“Law firms may not have a significant impact on the world’s ecosystem. However, the profession can still be proactive, in terms of showcasing its own environmental best practices.

“One way that firms can do this is to monitor and disclose their own environmental improvement agenda – ideally as part of an industry-wide initiative.”

The report said law firms should also consider actively promoting their role in clients’ environmental improvement projects.

“In the battle for talent, it is arguably advantageous for law firms to have a recruitment message which focuses on the firm’s role in helping to make the world a better place – rather than actively drawing attention to client projects that may attract the ire of environmental activists.”

Firms should think carefully how to position themselves on environmental grounds when recruiting, “particularly at the junior end” of the fee-earner market.

“Law firms, especially large commercial law firms, are not an obvious source of employment for those who wish to make the world a better place.

“However, by actively choosing to showcase their role in projects that aim to improve the environment, firms may be able to change this perception. Highlighting a firm’s involvement in an offshore windfarm project sends a very different signal to the labour market compared with, for example, promoting the practice’s role in developing a new offshore oil field”.

The report said many lawyers could “play a vital role in helping organisations to become better corporate citizens”, a message that “arguably needs to be communicated by the legal profession more widely” both to clients and potential recruits.

“In many circumstances, it is perfectly possible to have a successful career in the commercial legal sector, while still helping to make the world a better place.

“That said, the legal profession cannot afford to be complacent about its own record on societal issues. Globally, the sector is plagued by diversity challenges – notably, in relation to gender diversity.

“Thankfully, there are now clear signs that some jurisdictions are now making determined efforts to improve their professions’ diversity record, either on a voluntary (US) or regulatory (England and Wales) basis.”

ESG also offered a work opportunity, with aspects of it given force by quasi-legal means, such as industry codes of conduct, reporting obligations and international agreements.

“Advising clients on how to comply with such rules may therefore represent a growth market for law firms who do not already offer such services.

“This type of service line expansion illustrates how, for law firms, performing a social good and generating new sources of revenue do not need to be mutually exclusive activities.”

Jomati is headed by former Clifford Chance managing partner Tony Williams, who sits on the board of the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

“When we started examining the ESG concept, we discovered that many of its key ideas draw on domestic laws, international treaties or legally enforceable agreements to bring about positive change,” Mr Williams said.

“It therefore seems obvious that lawyers should familiarise themselves with the ESG concept, and also embrace it – not least because many of their clients are.”

The report noted how law firms were starting to appoint sustainability partners – just yesterday, Baker McKenzie named Paris-based Partner Alyssa Auberger as its first chief sustainability officer.

Former global chair of its consumer goods & retail industry group, Ms Auberger worked with a number of global bodies, including the United Nations Global Compact, to heighten awareness of the importance of ESG risks and opportunities.

Earlier this year, we reported that London firm Mishcon de Reya launched an ESG offering for companies wanting to build “more sustainable and resilient” businesses as they emerge from the coronavirus crisis.

There is already the Legal Sustainability Alliance – a group of law firms publicly committed to improving the environmental sustainability of their operations and activities – and the Chancery Lane Project, a collaboration of lawyers working pro bono to create the legal conditions needed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

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