We have exchanged views in the past with thought leaders spearheading sustainability integration in the legal industry such as Professor Paul Watchman, Paul Clements-Hunt, Pamela Cone and Adrian Peyer, about law firm values in the context of ESG and the importance of having the courage to commit to ones values – which boils down to being willing and ready to say “no”. It’s a matter of choice – plain and simple. Too often we hear (frankly, quite lame and usually entirely misplaced) excuses based on access to justice, or the so-called cab rank rule. The reality is that lawyers and firms have always made choices about the clients and mandates they take on – choices based on legal or commercial conflicts, deal size, fee size, etc. And so it follows that firms who do not place ESG matters at the heart of their value proposition, or do not consistently commit to their values, do so as a matter of choice. We only take on mandates that are aligned with the UN SDGs – that’s our value proposition – we integrate ESG into our operations and (as soon as we have our baseline) will be a net zero carbon business too. This is our choice. And each time we have said “no” to a client due to the absence of SDG alignment in the mandate, we have been asked to expand the mandate to help the client reframe the project / deal so that it is aligned. This is really powerful. Imagine the impact when more firms, and some of the big firms, do the same or something similar.
The leadership shown by global law firms such as Clifford Chance’s Jeroen Ouwehand and Linklaters’ Vanessa Havard-Williams to stand up for their values in response to the horrific aggression being unleashed on Ukraine is incredible. We see many other law firms are standing up for their values too. Could this be the beginning of a timely and much needed ESG-fueled and values-focused transformation of our profession? In our experience, committing to our values has been good for business – it also confirms that we lawyers can, through our engagement letters, influence positive outcomes and deliver all-important additionality. We wonder, where do we go from here?