Surge in legal businesses embedding social purpose as B Corps

Denis-Smith: Important message to the profession

There has been a surge in legal businesses becoming B Corporations, the movement which aims to balance profit with purpose.

Alternative legal services provider Obelisk Support last month became the latest, the 11th in the UK, in the wake of another unregulated provider, fee-share practice the London Law Collective.

Central London law firm Joelson, City-based KaurMaxwell, and Gatwick, London and Milton Keynes practice EMW Law, have also converted since May.

With 11 fee-earners, KaurMaxwell is the smallest legal B Corp, while at the start of 2023, legal and professional services group Ampa became the biggest, with over 1,300 people

Last year saw South-West practice Stephens Scown, North-West firm Brabners, and midlands firm Anthony Collins become B Corps. Bates Wells was the pioneer in 2015, followed by fellow London firm Radiant Law in 2019.

To become a B Corp, a business must demonstrate “high social and environmental performance”, make a legal commitment by changing their corporate governance structure to be accountable to all stakeholders, not just shareholders, and exhibit transparency by allowing information about their performance measured against the standards to be publicly available.

Renowned for its testing nature, B Corp certification measures five key pillars of a business impact: governance, workers, community, environment and customers, covering issues ranging from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and materials.

Obelisk says it has the UK’s largest vetted freelance legal team, with over 2,000 consultants, with clients including BT, British Business Bank, Kantar, ING Bank and Ocado.

Founder Dana Denis-Smith said: “Achieving B Corp certification provides external validation of the values we have held since day one.

“The certification process was rigorous, lengthy, and highly evidential. We’ve been pushed to become the very best business we can be. As a result, we have created an improved and sustainable business framework. It’s a new era for Obelisk.

“The certification safeguards our founding principle of ‘Human First’. For our team, it shows them that we’re serious about treating them like people, not profit centres.

“For our clients, it provides them with the reassurance that we actively pursue a better way of doing business and they can access not only a quality legal service, but one that centres on ethical business principles.”

Ms Denis-Smith, a member of the Law Society council, said B Corp status also sent an “an important message” to the legal profession “that you can pursue both profit and purpose. You don’t have to sacrifice one for the other”.

She added: “In fact, given the way environmental, societal and governance issues are driving corporate agendas today, B Corp status provides the profession with a recognised way of aligning with client agendas.”

Nick Lloyd, chair of EMW Law, said the move would help create a “positive legacy”, adding that he hoped the growing number of law firms becoming B Corps would encourage more “to be proactive in their efforts for good”.

He explained: “We must be the change we seek in the world. Business has a huge and largely undervalued role in this. We have always understood the importance of being a force for good, appreciating the role that businesses play in creating positive change.”

In its announcement, KaurMaxwell said it was “challenging law firm culture, making it a much more transparent and positive experience for our stakeholders”.

There are more than 6,250 B Corps globally, including 1,300 in the UK. KaurMaxwell said: “Together, we create standards, policies, tools and programs that shift behaviour, culture and balance profit and purpose.

“We look forward to working with the wider B Corp community to learn and share best practice, as we look for new solutions to some of the greatest challenges we face.”

Among the well-known brands in the B Corp community are The Guardian, innocent, Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, The Body Shop and Abel & Cole.

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