HomeThe InfluencersThe ConsultantsIs B Corp over before it has started in the legal sector?

Is B Corp over before it has started in the legal sector?

Mishcon de Reya is to drop its B Corp status. Helen Foord looks at what this means for the legal sector and professional services firms exploring the B Corp route.

In early March, and during B Corp Month, Mishcon de Reya decided to drop its B Corp status. It has caused ripples of gossip within both the legal and B Corp communities.

Mishcon de Reya said: “Along with other leading professional service firms, we are looking at creating an appropriate new set of sustainability standards for regulated businesses. We have, therefore, decided to end our partnership with B Corp although we remain fully committed to the principles and values it supports, which will continue to be enshrined in our constitution.”

On one hand this is good news. Certification should be a struggle and hard work. It should challenge organisations to think about how they operate and hold them to the highest standards. It should require them to view B Corp status as a daily journey, not a destination. And if they don’t think they’re measuring up, B Corps should be willing to step down. So, in that respect, good on Mishcon de Reya for holding the mirror up and withdrawing.

But it also rings alarm bells. There need to be more, not fewer, B Corp law firms – changing the business world through the advice they give and the ways they work. So, losing even a single one impacts on the standing B Corp certification has in the sector.

And, the alarm bells get louder when we look at Mischon de Reya’s supposed reasons for standing down and the firm’s call for a new set of standards created within the legal sector.

In all my years of working in the legal sector and with B Corps (latterly as a B Leader, trained to support firms going through the assessment process) I haven’t found ANYTHING that suggests Mishcon de Reya is right in their supposed assessment of the disconnect between B Corp status and regulatory requirements.

Furthermore, the B Impact Assessment has a wide range of metrics for ensuring that the certification process works for each of the organisations going through it. There are in excess of 50 strands that a business can find itself on, depending on its structure, focus and regulatory requirements. And let’s not forget that there are several hundred financial services organisations – equally regulated – including banks such as Triodos that have held B Corp status for years.

In B Corp, we already have a global set of standards and we don’t need another, less-tested framework just because it makes it easier for law firms. The real value of B Corp is precisely that it IS independent of any sector and that it benchmarks all organisations against a rigorous, globally-recognised standard. Bringing the framework inside the legal sector cannot ever stand up credibly against this level of objectivity. As a sector we cannot say, on one hand, that we want to break down barriers and increase accessibility – coming down from our ivory towers – and yet also create a closed club to assess our own ethical standing.

Working through the Impact Assessment to become a B Corp is one of the best things any law firm can do – irrespective of size and structure. It has real strategic value, helping to challenge and question processes and assumptions. Whether you progress to B Corp certification or not, I believe it is an excellent way to audit performance, question social and environmental commitment and to establish a rigorous infrastructure for governance and decision-making at all levels and in all areas. But B Corp status isn’t a destination – and that’s where the real value comes. You agree to report progress against benchmarks and goals in a transparent way. You agree to join the community and work together, for greater success.  The real value lies in BEING a B Corp, not in CERTIFYING as one.

B Corp is the ONLY tried and tested, rigorous framework of standards covering both social and environmental responsibility. I believe it allows firms, for the first time, to communicate in a transparent way. When offered an opportunity to use a globally recognised method for proving ethical ways of working, why would you want to turn away from that and create something that’s back within the smoke and mirrors of old?

All of this is why I think Mishcon de Reya is the one missing out, not the B Corp movement. Dozens of law firms are currently going through the B Corp process and dozens more are considering it. Rarely a week goes by that I don’t get approached by a firm considering it. And I sing its praises loud and confidently – as someone that has seen the benefits first hand.

Helen Foord is the first specialist in responsible strategic marketing and business development for professional services organisations. With almost 20 years’ experience of working in this sector, Helen has completed the B Leader course as well as having led ELE Global to achieving B Corp status. She can be reached by email: helen@eleglobal.me.

Matt Baldwin
Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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