Pioneering employee-owned law firm becomes B Corp

Baker: Clear signal to clients

The first employee owned law firm in the country has now become a B Corporation, saying it is part of a movement to prove “there is a better way to do business”.

Leading south-west practice Stephens Scown is only the sixth law firm to go through the rigorous certification process to become a B Corp, although one later quit the scheme.

With B standing for ‘Benefit’, B Corps 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”.

Stephens Scown managing partner Richard Baker said that it saw certification as underlining its “long-term commitment to being a force for good in wider society”.

He explained: “With the backdrop of global challenges to tackle and the ongoing threat to our environment, it is vital that we showcase just how we are making a difference and that we are part of a much bigger movement, proving there is a better way to do business.”

He told Legal Futures that the move to employee ownership and the firm’s ‘Giving Back’ programme – which covers fundraising, volunteering, pro bono work and reducing the firm’s environmental impact – meant he would have been disappointed if Stephens Scown had not made it through what he described as the “very exacting” certification process.

Mr Baker described how becoming employee owned in 2016 and “getting people actively engaged in the business was hugely transformative in what we’ve been able to do”.

“Increasingly people want to have a business with a purpose behind it and harnessing that is really important,” he said.

The firm’s LLP agreement had to be amended as part of the process “in respect of taking decisions and balancing all of the stakeholders rather than just the equity partners/shareholders”.

Though becoming a B Corp would not mark much change in how the firm operated, Mr Baker said it sent a clear signal to clients and potential clients about its values.

At the same time, he acknowledged that – despite some high-profile B Corps, such as Ben & Jerry’s, Kickstarter and BrewDog – the business world still needed educating on what they were.

Laurie Trounce, joint head of the firm’s corporate team, added that sustainability – whether economic, social or environmental – was becoming a key driver among business leaders, shaping their decision making.

She said: “We work with a number of businesses who are evolving their decision-making frameworks and adopting new ways of working, including through employee ownership and B Corp certification.

“In light of the issues businesses are facing in a post-Covid marketplace, such as recruitment challenges and adapting to a hybrid working structure, businesses which are able to build their purpose into the DNA of their organisation will be able to use it as the glue that unites remote teams, creates brand value, and enables them to meet the inevitable consumer demand for more purposeful businesses in the future.”

B Corps are reassessed every three years. At each assessment, the criteria become more ambitious as B Corps are encouraged to continuously develop their business and increase their positive impact.

Bates Wells became the first law firm B Corp in 2015, followed by fellow London firm Radiant Law in 2019. Last October, North-West firm Brabners joined them, along with Anthony Collins Solicitors in the Midlands just a month ago.

Mishcon de Reya became a B Corp in August 2021, but after only seven months withdrew from the initiative. There has since been no news on the “appropriate new set of sustainability standards for regulated businesses” that it said it was looking to create instead.

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