How law firms are adopting ESG and why it's crucial for employee and client satisfaction

Posted on Wednesday, January 31, 2024 by CJ Obi

Since joining Ryder Reid I’ve supported law firms to grow their Sustainability and Social Impact teams, helping them to build what’s becoming an increasingly crucial pillar for all businesses. In that time, I’ve connected with some of the brightest and most forward-thinking professionals in this space, all the while learning more about how the legal sector is approaching Environment, Social and Governance (ESG).

As well as supporting clients to find top ESG talent and push themselves forward with responsible practices, I’m proud to work for a company who place great emphasis on social responsibility –especially when it comes to supporting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We know ESG to be an evolving pillar of business, and we’re always looking for new ways to meet standards and ensure we’re continuing to have a positive impact on the communities we reach. 

What is ESG and how does it differ from CSR? 

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has long since been the recognised term for the integration of the social and environmental practices which help a business to stay accountable to itself and its stakeholders, and to ultimately have a positive impact on the world around it.

Although Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) shares common goals around ethical business practice, the two concepts are distinct. CSR is the broader principle and speaks to the company's internal processes, whereas ESG is the external metric system used to measure their overall sustainability – something which businesses cannot hide from in 2024.

Leading the way in the legal industry

ESG teams within law firms tend to assess the company's environmental and social impact, as well as how they are governing and self-regulating, and then work to help the business respond and adapt according to regulatory requirements.

While there’s a way to go before every business is investing the necessary resources into ESG, in my time working closely with law firms on this matter I’ve seen innovative and forward-thinking social impact strategies across the legal industry, and some great examples of good practice.

Three things the frontrunners are doing

  • Influencing. Establishing someone at Partner level with ‘Social Impact’ or similar in their title shows the emphasis the firm places on ESG, which in turn inspires others in the same organisation to recognise and push its importance.

  • Power in numbers. Some leading firms have hired large teams of people specifically focused on ESG. This helps to break down barriers, ensuring environmental and ethical factors aren’t handled in silo but woven throughout all operations, and demonstrates to clients that when it comes to ESG, they’ll be supported.

  • Acclaims and accreditations. Businesses can apply for certification such as B-Corp, which shows they have met rigorous standards of social and environmental performance and accountability. Meanwhile Ecovadis assess and rank sustainability  - Ryder Reid are proud to have a silver badge! - and other organisations like the Social Mobility Foundation, who index and name businesses performing well in this space.

While these are all great starting points and things to be proud of, more important will be the ongoing processes and long-term strategies companies put in place to maintain their standards, including proactive initiatives and evidence of a tangible, positive impact on communities.

The impact of ESG on clients, employees and attracting new talent

Being socially conscious and environmentally tuned as a firm is absolutely paramount in 2024, and increasingly we hear from candidates who put this at the forefront of their job search and see it as a key indicator of a company’s wider culture and ethos.

  • Employee retention: ESG values can help to create a positive and inclusive workplace culture, with employees feeling more engaged and satisfied that their work contributes to a greater purpose beyond financial success. Great Place to Work found that when an employee feels proud of their company, they are twice as likely to stay.*

  • Attracting new talent: Younger generations rising up are placing a high value on working for organisations that align with their personal values. 75% of millennials said they’d take a pay cut to work for a responsible company*, while 85% of graduates said it was important to them that a hiring company had sustainable practices*. 

  • Client expectations: Clients, particularly some of the biggest corporations across the world, are increasingly integrating ESG criteria into their decision-making processes. Law firms that are proactive in adopting ESG practices not only meet client expectations, they position themselves as partners who understand and can navigate the evolving landscape of responsible business practices. 

The future of ESG

It's clear that ESG is becoming ever more crucial for businesses wanting to uphold a strong ethos and maintain trust amongst their clients, stakeholders and employees, not least because it’s now recognised as a key risk indicator. Firms who build robust ESG frameworks are better positioned to mitigate potential legal and reputational pitfalls, and ultimately sustain a healthier, thriving business that has a positive impact on its communities. 

With younger generations placing more and more emphasis on ESG, and organisations around the world continuing to raise the bar on standards, it has never been more important for law firms to implement and act on robust strategies, and build environmentally and socially conscious practices into everything they do.

Written by CJ Iruoma Obi, Executive Search Consultant at Ryder Reid specialising in placing Social Impact, Sustainability and Business Services professionals in U.S and International Law firms. CJ joined Ryder Reid in 2023, having worked in permanent recruitment for over 12 years. He has a real passion for Social Value advisory work, supporting a number of organisations across different sectors with their responsible business initiatives.


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