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Law firms failing to meet responsible business expectations

Lamp House Strategy publishes first Responsible Business report and benchmark of 125 of the leading global law firms.

A new report suggests that almost all the world’s 125 leading law firms struggle to demonstrate the value they create for their wider stakeholders and fall short in meeting the responsible business expectations of clients.

The inaugural Lamp House Strategy Responsible Business Annual Report assesses law firms on 238 different responsible business activities across the areas of planet, people and governance. Whilst the average firm adopted 38 different activities, the leading firms adopted 82.

The Lamp House Strategy Responsible Business Annual Report shows:

  • Just 22% of law firms publish a holistic responsible business report.
  • 39% of firms do not show any effort towards supporting individuals with disabilities and/or neurodivergent people.
  • Just one in five firms have stated targets for increasing the percentage of women partners.
  • 96% of firms fail to demonstrate how they review clients and new instructions from their ESG perspective.
  • Only 32% of firms clearly apply ESG criteria to their supply chain.
  • 58% of firms globally are not transparent with their pro bono commitment, rising to 68% in the UK.
  • Only 26% of firms measure their Scope 1 and 2 emissions, with just 22% setting Net Zero targets.
  • US law firms, however, trail their UK counterparts on communicating governance measures and their commitment to the planet. Canadian firms on average are the least transparent.

Lisa Hart Shepherd, CEO of Lamp House Strategy, said: “It is terrific to see all law firms doing something to demonstrate they are acting in a responsible way to their people, communities and the planet. Yet it is disappointing to see a general lack of transparency and commitment by way of measures, targets and reporting. Clients and talent want firms to step up in this area, and firms are simply not doing enough.”

Lamp House Strategy has scored firms across all their activity. UK firm, Burges Salmon, took the overall lead, demonstrating a sophisticated and transparent approach across all three streams of people, planet and governance.

Other firms in the top 5%, in alphabetical order, are Addleshaw Goddard, Baker McKenzie, DWF, Freshfields, Linklaters and Slaughter & May. Within the individual streams, the top 5% differed, with DLA Piper International leading for planet, Reed Smith for people and DWF for governance.

Commenting on the report, Chris Seaton, Senior Partner at Burges Salmon said: “Our responsible business strategy has underpinned our values and culture for over a decade and is core to our purpose as a firm.

“Authenticity in this area is key for our people and it is hugely important that it is not seen as a tick box exercise. This requires the strategy to be led and lived by those at the very top of the firm. Undoubtedly our performance as a responsible business is an important driver for why people want to stay at our firm and for the talent we recruit.

“It is great to get external recognition for our efforts in this area which is down to the significant contribution of people right the way throughout the firm. We are delighted to have been identified as a global leader for responsible business in the Lamp House Strategy review but also appreciate that there is still much more to do moving forward.”

The research is based on an in-depth review of all the published information and reports across 125 leading law firm websites by Lamp House Strategy conducted during July and August 2023.

Lamp House Strategy has also been working behind the scenes with many law firms and has found that most are doing significantly more than they report on their websites.

Lisa Hart Shepherd said: “This is a lost opportunity. Failing to tell your responsible business story equates to a significant lost return on investment. Most people understand that this is a journey and that not everything will be perfect straight away. People just want to know that firms are taking their duty of care seriously and talking openly about efforts and progress is the best way to do that.”

Lamp House Strategy is providing corporate legal departments with a spotlight to help them review firms’ responsible business approaches through a series of free-to-access dashboards in the Lamp House Analytics platform.

“This will be a fantastic tool for law firm clients to use, enabling them to ask the right questions and find firms that align to their values as a customer,” adds Lisa Hart Shepherd.

A copy of the report is available by contacting Lamp House Strategy by emailing jo@lamphousestrategy.com.

Matt Baldwin
Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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