Legal firms, which are enormous consumers of paper, are increasingly turning to green business practices to save money and natural resources, drive efficiency and align their values with existing clients -- and companies searching for a sustainability-minded law firm. Now attorneys have a new law-specific resource called the Green Guide for Lawyers to help them minimize their environmental impacts.
"If you’re not attuned to these issues, you’re at a competitive disadvantage in my mind," said David Scott, an attorney with Luper Neidenthal and Logan in Columbus, Ohio.
Scott served as chair of the Meritas Leadership Institute, which recently unveiled the Green Guide for Lawyers, a best practices handbook that follows in the footsteps of the American Bar Association-U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (ABA-EPA) Law Office Climate Change Challenge launched last year.
"You’ve got a small group of attorneys in the game and then there’s a greater body of attorneys that never think about these things," Scott said.
The greening of the corporate sector has picked up steam in recent years, and as those corporations attempt to improve their bottom lines and mitigate risk from impending federal environmental regulations, they turn to their legal teams for advice.
"It matters to clients," Scott said. "What’s important to clients is important to attorneys."
The emphasis on environmental and sustainability issues becomes more acute for those firms whose client lists tread heavily toward the green sector.
"We have a number of clients involved in green business," said Adam Umanoff, a partner with the law firm of Chadbourne and Parke, which recently announced a corporate green initiative to curb paper consumption and tap into renewable energy. "Ignoring their concerns isn’t good business practice."
Historically, lawyers entered the environmental realm in one of two ways, according to Josh Arnold, founder of the consulting firm 360GREEN Inc. in Madison, Wis. Arnold, who also earned a degree from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., worked as an advisor for the Meritas Green Guide for Lawyers.
Attorneys could work for a nonprofit, or other organization on the "good side," or they could work for a larger firm that represents polluters or those perceived to be on the "bad side." But the concept of the triple bottom line -- based on financial, social and environmental performance -- has spilled into sectors that previously had no association with being green. These days, businesses across nearly every sector are addressing sustainability in some way.
"The old dichotomy of 'good’ versus 'bad’ has gone away," Arnold said. "Now you can do the right thing no matter what sector you’re working in. It becomes a way for attorneys to deliver additional value for clients, no matter who the client is."
|If Lawyers Can Do It, Your Firm Can, Too|
Reduce your paper usage: Set your printers to print double-sided and encourage employees to print sparingly. Buy paper with high post-consumer recycled content.
Ditch the bottled water: Installing water filters can cut bottled water consumption and associated waste. Supply reusable water bottles or mugs.
Promote carpooling or mass transit: Encourage and/or subsidize carpooling and public transportation for your employees, such as through pre-tax commuter checks.
Embrace green cleaning products: Phase out products made with harsh chemicals in favor of those that are environmentally friendly.
Power down: Enable power management features on computers to reduce energy use and expense.
Law firms can position themselves as trusted business advisors if they can gain sustainability skills, Arnold said. With future regulations on the horizon and a likely cap-and-trade system that stands to turn some sectors into winners or losers, lawyers will be at the forefront of the transition to a low-carbon economy by making the case for their clients.
"They can provide a whole other set of counseling for clients," Arnold said. "This counseling is well within the traditional parameters of attorney advice because it’s about risk management."
A number of climate change law practices have sprung up around the country. For instance, Umanoff’s firm, Chadbourne and Parke has launched a climate change practice that is being led by former New York Gov. George E. Pataki and John Cahill, the former commissioner of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.
Potential clients are showing more interest in how law firms are addressing sustainability, said Daniel Eisenberg, an attorney with the law firm Beveridge and Diamond who also works with ABA-EPA Law Office Climate Change Challenge.
"When a big company asks for firms’ request for proposals, they’re now asking questions about green, much like they do for diversity," Eisenberg said.
Many attorneys spoke of the need to demonstrate leadership. "We think it’s important to show leadership within the business and legal communities so that others will follow our lead," said Jonathan Storper, a partner with the law firm Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco.