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Future Looks Bright for Law Firm Sustainability Programs

Jan. 8, 2019, 8:59 PM

Corporate responsibility and sustainability efforts look to be gaining traction at law firms, with 64 percent of firms in a new survey saying they see a positive outlook ahead for such programs.

The Jan.7 report from the Law Firm Sustainability Networkand Amity Advisory is based on responses from 53 law firms ranging from Big Law players to small boutiques.

Large firms that took part in the survey included Nixon Peabody, Kirkland & Ellis, Hogan Lovells, Morrison Foerster, Seyfarth Shaw, Beveridge & Diamond, Weil Gotschal, and Blank Rome.

The majority of law firms, according to the data, said they have seen positive effects from their sustainability practices. Some 74 percent said having these programs increased employee morale. And 22 percent went a step further, asserting that they had actually seen a positive effect on revenue due to these programs.

Firms are indeed finding value in these efforts, Gayatri Joshi of Law Firm Sustainability Network and a co-author of the report, told Bloomberg Law.

Joshi is vice president and executive director of LFSN, a nonprofit organization made up of law firms and legal departments working to promote sustainability throughout the industry.

There are several drivers for this change, Joshi and another co-author Pamela Cone, founder and CEO of consultancy Amity Advisors, told Bloomberg Law.

Firms believe sustainability is the right thing to do but a large part of the push to be more socially and environmentally responsible is coming from clients who are asking more pointed questions about what firms are doing in that area, Cone said.

It’s similar to the push by law firm clients for greater diversity and inclusion at law firms, she noted.

Recruitment concerns are also driving the movement, Joshi said, as top attorneys often want to work for organizations that emphasize sustainability.

Unique Sustainability Programs

The survey showed that the majority of respondents believe reducing waste and consumption should be a focus of sustainability efforts, but some firms are going above and beyond that with more novel projects.

For instance, two Nixon Peabody partners, Herb Stevens and Jeff Lesk, formed an independent nonprofit group, New Partners Community Solar Corp., that finances, develops, and installs solar panels on office buildings in Washington. The energy produced results in billing credits that are distributed to affordable housing tenants in the city, resulting in about $250 in credits per person per year.

The firm supports NPSolar through the pro bono work of 22 attorneys and paralegals.

Weil Gotshal’s Volunteer Time Off program provides U.S.- and London-based attorneys and administrative staff with an additional day of paid time off each year to use for volunteer service. The firm encourages sustainability-related volunteer activities like local park beautification efforts.

Additional study findings include:

  • 80 percent of respondents said that senior executive support is an important success factor for sustainability programs
  • 85 percent of respondents reported having received requests for proposals or information on their sustainability policies or values
  • Employee engagement was the most cited focus for sustainability programs in 2018
  • 12 percent of respondents said their programs were very effective; 29 percent said they were moderately effective

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com