The presence of three law firms on the Business in the Community Corporate Responsibility Charter 2008 is good news for the profession.
But behind this success, corporate and social responsibility (CSR) is going through a tricky period.
The economic crisis has meant that budgets are down across the board. With jobs being cut by the hundreds, staff might well question why money is being spent on projects that bring no tangible benefit to firms.
For many CSR managers it is a case of trying to have the maximum impact with more limited resources.
DLA Piper head of CSR Elaine Radford feels that, given the amount of money being spent on CSR during the economic boom, something had to give.
“It doesn’t surprise me that things have had to change. We all felt we were on the cusp of something being different,” she adds.
The firm has been forced to become more focused with its investment in worthwhile causes.
Older projects are being reassessed and new projects must provide value for money.
Eversheds head of diversity and corporate responsibility (CR) Caroline Wilson says her budget has also shrunk. “It’s about time commitment more than money. Whatever’s going on around them, people are still passionate about this area,” she insists.
Despite the economic gloom, the firm saw more than 400 staff sign up to Give & Gain Day, a national volunteering event.
Clearly much can be achieved even if the amount of cash being handed to CSR managers has fallen since the economic crisis took hold.
The presence of three firms in the rankings does mark an improvement on last year, when just DLA Piper represented the legal community.
Business in the Community does not release the individual scores for organisations listed in its charter, but all three firms provided this information when asked by The Lawyer.
A somewhat surprising entry in third place was Linklaters, with 80 per cent. The firm suffered a setback this year when its new global CR manager Paul Cornes left after just weeks in the new job.
Cornes had joined from Prupim, the global real estate management company, on 27 April, but decided shortly afterwards to go into retirement, leaving a hole in Linklaters’ CSR management team that the firm has yet to fill.
Business manager Brian Henderson has been appointed the interim CR manager to take charge of managing the firm’s projects on a day-to-day basis.
Global head of CR Oonagh Harper says Linklaters made significant progress in 2008, particularly in terms of transparency.
The firm published the results of its CR review, addressing areas that are in need of improvement.
Harper says: “The area where we’ve made the biggest leap forward is client relationships.”
She has established seven questions that partners must ask themselves before taking on new clients in a bid to prevent unethical instructions.
The top-ranked firm was DLA Piper, with a score of 86.5 per cent. The firm is particularly strong on environmental issues – joint chief executive Nigel Knowles was instrumental in setting up the Legal Sector Alliance (LSA), which encourages members to take action on climate change and publish details of how much carbon they produce.
DLA Piper’s Radford recently oversaw two schemes to reduce the firm’s impact on the environment. The Energy Smart programme has seen a concerted push to encourage staff to turn off lights and computers when they are not being used, while more unusually the Travel Smart scheme saw all
non-essential travel banned for a week.
The only exceptions were made when clients specifically requested a visit in person.
“We were able to influence the agenda quite significantly. We had a number of senior people asking, ‘Am I allowed to go here?’,” says Radford.
The firm’s carbon footprint is 4.25 tonnes per UK employee, which Radford says is impressive given the size and geographic reach of the firm.
Other key schemes include the Building Better Lives project, a joint initiative with the Prince’s Trust to recruit young people into the construction industry.
Some 760 people have gone through the scheme, with some graduates currently working on the Olympic site in London.
In second place, and with one of the most improved scores, was Eversheds. The firm was awarded 85 per cent and boasts an impressive track record on diversity.
Eversheds’ relationship with Tyco has been instrumental. In 2008 the company set eight diversity targets for its percentage of female and ethnic minority staff, dangling a six-figure bonus if those targets were met.
But Tyco’s then general counsel Trevor Faure has since left to join Ernst & Young and the relationship has shifted. It seems unlikely that the company will continue to push diversity in the same way.
However, Wilson says the firm is still facing pressure from clients on the issue. In response the firm offers detailed statistics to clients on the diversity of its employees.
Eversheds was the only firm to make it into the Stonewall Top 100 of gay-friendly employees in 2009.
While all three firms deserve recognition for winning silver awards, it is worth noting that not a single law firm achieved the highest gold or platinum ratings.