Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability—Why Should Law Firms Care

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Linda Hazelton of Hazelton Marketing & Management shares lessons learned from the "Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability—Why Should Law Firms Care," LMA Annual Conference 2019 panel. 


 

Panelists:

  • Pamela Cone, VP, Global Social Responsibility Officer, Milliman and Founder and CEO of Amity Advisors
  • Gayatri Joshi, Executive Director, Law Firm Sustainability Network and Founder and VP of EcoAnalyze
  • Mona Sheth, Business Development Manager, Project Finance and Public Finance; Environment and Land Use Teams, Nixon Peabody LLP

What is Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability (CSR)? Elements include community involvement and volunteering; charitable giving; diversity, inclusion, and gender equity; environmental issues including carbon footprint and climate change; and client work and pro bono work.

In this compelling and informative session, we learned that the United Nations has 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 and to date has garnered 3620 partnerships and voluntary commitments. The goals are based on the principle of “leaving no one behind,” and emphasize a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all.  In turn, the Law Firm Sustainability Network, comprising 40 large and influential firms, has created the American Legal Industry Sustainability Standard (ALISS), an online self-assessment tool measuring a law firm’s environmental sustainability.

Why Care?

Many of our clients, especially those in banking, insurance, and investment, are leading the way and requiring their service providers to show evidence of social responsibility and sustainability in regular reports and in RFPs.  Pam Cone reported that Milliman lost a major client and is barred from re-applying to serve the client for four years after a sub-optimal showing in the CSR portion of the RFP, even while scoring highly in every other criterion. She discussed the firm’s subsequent EcoVadis report card score, indicating that Milliman had improved substantially and still had ground to cover.

Pam pointed out that a law firm’s carbon footprint stemmed disproportionately from business travel and hotel use (78% of total footprint), and yet firms often focus on paper recycling, which accounts less than one percent (0.39%) of the overall footprint.

Mona Sheth shared highlights from Nixon Peabody’s Legally Green® program. They are collaborating with 10 other “most respected law firms”—Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy—delivering pro bono legal services to clients who are driving sustainability transformation.  The network of firms has pledged to provide some $2 million in pro bono legal services by the end of 2020. Some of Nixon Peabody’s projects have included installing solar panels on D.C. commercial properties. Solar facility owners can transfer the financial benefits to low- income tenants in D.C.

The firm has obtained several LEED Certifications and is converting its office spaces to sustainable buildings. Among other initiatives, Nixon Peabody offset 100% of its carbon emissions (11.5+ million air, rail, and car miles traveled) through carbon offset purchases.

Gayatri Joshi discussed what was driving CEOs to take action on sustainability issues. Seventy-nine percent of CEOs surveyed in 2016 said sustainability was important for their brand, trust, and reputation. Ninety-seven percent believed sustainability was important to the future success of their business.

In The Law Firm Sustainability Network’s 2018 Outlook Report, 50+ firms responded regarding their CSR and sustainability programs.

Eighty-five percent reported having received an RFP with sustainability questions. Sixty-four percent said the outlook for law firm sustainability programs was good or very good.

Interestingly, when reporting on the importance of sustainability to stakeholders, firms responded:

  • New clients 77%
  • Existing clients 69%
  • Partners 60%
  • Associates 83%
  • Staff 81%

Sustainability has a recruiting impact across the board!

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