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The future of Law: embracing ESG and sustainability for success

26 June 2024

Julie Galbraith, Managing Partner in Belfast discusses the future of law and how ESG and sustainability are now at the forefront with the Irish News.

I recently spoke with trainee solicitors about a topic that wasn't on the curriculum when I was a trainee - ESG and Sustainability and what it means for legal businesses such as DWF.

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) are the three measurable components of sustainability that help quantify an organisations sustainable practices. Today, a business strategy based on sustainability with the transparency of ESG metrics is a strategic imperative, not just for law firms but for all responsible businesses.

The focus is driven by several factors including regulatory changes, consumer preferences, investor pressure and risk management. Strong ESG performance equates to better reputation and reduced financial risk, and consequently, employees, clients and consumers are drawn to products and services from responsible businesses.

In law firms, ESG practices extend beyond compliance or corporate social responsibility. ESG is the bedrock of responsible business and should run throughout all business operations and engagement with stakeholders.

Environmental stewardship involves more than just recycling paper and reducing plastic use. It's ensuring that the firm's operations and advice provided align with the global push towards a more sustainable future - fundamentally reducing our carbon footprint, promoting sustainable practices, and advising clients on environmental regulations. DWF's carbon reduction plan includes an ongoing, comprehensive review of our premises strategy, making energy supply changes, recycling equipment and assessing supply chain and travel emissions.

The Social component encompasses diversity, equity and inclusion, community engagement, and employee wellbeing. It is about fostering a positive workplace culture that attracts and retains top talent; supporting employee well-being and engaging with the community through pro bono work and charitable initiatives.

The DWF Foundation, an independent charity founded by DWF, exemplifies this commitment. Through a variety of fundraising activities, the Foundation has distributed grants totalling over £1 million to good causes to support individuals and communities - an important aspect of our corporate life.

Governance emphasises the firm's commitment to ethical practices, transparency, and accountability. It includes how a firm manages its internal affairs; advises clients on compliance and risk management, and the way in which advice is provided.

Questions about a firm's ESG commitments are now common in tender documents, reflecting a broader trend where clients prefer to work with firms that share their values on sustainability and responsible business practices. Lawyers need to be armed with the knowledge to articulate responsible business credentials to clients as they do in relation to legal expertise.

At DWF, we focus on education, engagement and communication with our colleagues; flowing from a core set of policies; to cascade information and requirements so that our people can advise, resolve and guide clients with sustainability forefront.

Research by consultants at Lamp House Strategy underscores the importance of authentic ESG practices. They found that lawyers who perceive their firms to be committed to responsible business initiatives are happier, more motivated and more likely to recommend their firm as a place to work.

In conclusion, ESG in law firms goes beyond ethics; it's about differentiation, creating value, and building a sustainable future for the business, clients, and society. For forward-thinking firms like DWF, ESG is not just a trend but the future of responsible business.

The article originally appeared in The Irish News on 25th June 2024. Click here to view: Embracing ESG and sustainability for success – The Irish News

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