As firms continue to strive to look beyond the core strategies of improving client service, profitability, market share expansion, talent acquisition, and so on, ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) criteria are becoming increasingly promoted, with firms appointing dedicated senior staff members to oversee multi-pronged programs and initiatives that fall under this banner.
Hughes-Castell spoke with many senior women in the legal profession to commemorate International Women’s Day to learn about what is being done and what progress is being made to advance gender equality in the industry [Tackling Gender Diversity in Law in the Covid-19 Era]. Mental health has been a topic increasingly discussed over the past decade after concerns were raised over demanding expectations and resultant stresses being put on junior lawyers in particular. Suicides and breakdowns have been an all-too-common recent feature of “BigLaw”. While firms and the industry as a whole have taken steps to implement structures and accessible resources for those struggling with the psychological strains associated with a high-pressure profession with long working hours, there is an argument for greater observance and outreach for those not confident of asking for help or not recognising the symptoms of elevated stress. The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought further issues with the imposition of the working-from-home culture. While this has been lauded for shining light on the benefits of increased flexibility of working hours, reduction of commuting time and increased family time, and has likely changed the structure of the traditional working week forever, many have suffered from feelings of isolation and loneliness, being largely divorced from human contact beyond video conferencing.
As the world belatedly wakes up to the peril of the ongoing environmental crisis, law firms are not alone in examining how to reduce their carbon footprint. Greetings cards for Christmas, Chinese New Year, etc, are now almost universally delivered electronically, whereas previously such a gesture may have been received as something of a lazy, impersonal afterthought. It’s a small shift but it reflects more broadly changing attitudes.
The pandemic obviously all but ended international travel, and firms and clients had to forego the actual meeting room for virtual remote video conferencing. As firms and individuals have adapted to this, and technology has been forced to improve to keep pace with more demanding requirements, it will be interesting to see whether firms go back to the previous model of extensive travel. As greater scrutiny is placed on the preponderance of air travel and its effect on the environment, will firms adopt a more conservative approach – one which is more time-efficient and cost-effective, as well as “greener”? Firms’ brochures nowadays are far more likely to promote examples of deal activity in carbon-neutral and zero-emission energy projects than fossil fuels, further evidence of firms recognising how perception in the market and among clients matters.
While financial performance has been at the forefront of the minds of all law firm management over the past 18 months, it is gratifying to see that the pursuit of the almighty dollar is no longer, seemingly, the be-all and end-all. The increasing prevalence of ESG, and its presumed influence on the topics above as well as others, is only to be welcomed.