Find more sustainable ways to be a law firm - Rob Aberdein

There is a growing focus for businesses across all sectors on corporate sustainability, with the UK government legally bound to reach net zero emissions by 2050 via The Climate Change Act.

The legal sector has both specific challenges and advantages in addressing environmental and social issues, with technology having an important role to play.To this end, it’s important for firms to adopt a formal framework to effect meaningful and accountable change.The key sustainability challenges for the legal sector primarily stem from traditional working practices. It’s no exaggeration to say that legal work breeds paper and research exists to show a single lawyer could print up to 100,000 sheets every year, so the adoption of efficient legal tech is paramount. Whilst going paperless will be a challenge for many firms, less paper is possible for all. It’s also important to recognise electronic communication has a carbon footprint too, so avoiding unnecessary emails is a simple step change.Transport can be another significant challenge, with lawyers often needing to travel to attend court appearances and other work-related activities. Some travel is obviously unavoidable but encouraging virtual meetings, introducing remote or hybrid working practices as well as measures such as cycle to work and low emission car schemes will all have a significant impact on cutting carbon emissions.Sustainability is also about being socially responsible and the legal sector is well known for long working hours and a competitive culture, with recent research showing nearly two-thirds of legal professionals have experienced burnout from work. Technology, specifically case management software, offers the ability to automate processes and workflows, helping to free up time from administrative tasks and reduce the likelihood of errors. AI will also streamline and digitalise traditional methods of working.It’s important firms conduct ongoing reviews of their employee experience and use these results to focus on where to most effectively support change. This could mean measures such as enhanced family-friendly policies, better wellbeing support or flexible working.

Despite a number of inherent challenges, the legal sector is uniquely well-positioned to help lead the transition to more sustainable practices, with experience in many sustainability impact areas including data privacy, supplier contracts and tenders, human rights considerations and governance structures.Law firms can also play an important role in advocating for sustainable policies and legislation, developing a climate-conscious approach to legal practice and engaging in pro bono work.Research from Deloitte shows that 50 per cent-plus of Gen Zs and Millennials examine a company’s environmental approach before applying for a role and one in six have moved jobs based on climate concerns, so having a robust sustainability agenda will be increasingly important in the battle to recruit and retain the best talent.Adopting a robust framework is key and there are a whole range of corporate accreditations and certifications out there that involve differing levels of impact measurement. This includes B Corp, the Good Business Charter, FutureFit Business and Planet Mark, as well as some specific to our sector, such as The Legal Sustainability Alliance.B Corp certification additionally requires firms to adopt a legal framework that considers the impact of decisions on all stakeholders.The legal profession is based on honesty, integrity and fairness, so it makes perfect sense that law firms should increasingly be putting purpose into practice and leading the way in demonstrating a more socially and environmentally responsible way of doing business.Rob Aberdein is Chief Commercial Officer at Progeny, a B Corp certified business.



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