Freshfields pledges international commitment in CSR report

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

published its latest corporate social responsibility (CSR) report last Wednesday (30 January).

The report does paint an interesting but confusing puzzle that looks set to occupy the profession as a whole for the coming years.

Introducing the report, Freshfields’ joint senior partners Konstantin Mettenheimer and Guy Morton wrote: “We aim to be a leader among the international law firms in the field of corporate social responsibility.”

CSR is becoming an increasingly powerful, and some would argue essential, part of firms’ marketing in pitching for work.

At a BT-sponsored conference on CSR and diversity, BT general counsel Anne Fletcher said she would like all her law firms to live up to BT’s internal CSR requirements. A firm without CSR at its heart is therefore likely to miss out on business.

Freshfields’ report mostly states the obvious. It includes a section on ethics that mirrors closely the solicitors’ conduct rules and money laundering regulations. It claims its rules would “prevent the acceptance of clients or mandates that might damage our standing in the community”. However, that sentiment is not fleshed out.

The report also states that women, ethnic and other minorities are underrepresented at the top of firms’ pyramids and lays out the pro bono and community efforts of the firm, which are very similar to the programmes at many rivals.

In terms of the environment and climate change, Freshfields has reduced its global per capita greenhouse emissions by 2.5 per cent and is now certified as carbon-neutral.

Offsetting Freshfields’ footprint could cost the partnership around £200,000, at an estimate of around £10 per tonne of carbon. This equates to each equity partner forking out around £500 per year if each of the 443 equity partners absorb the bill. Average profit per equity partner at the firm is more than £1m.

For the first time the report also examines global trends. The US and the UK lead the field with respect to annual pro bono hours per member of staff, with Asia, the Middle East and Continental Europe lagging a long way behind.

In the environmental stakes, the firm’s US office is by far the largest greenhouse polluter, producing around four times more CO2-equivalent gases per employee than the UK. Most worryingly, perhaps, the US emissions have almost doubled in the past year. Elsewhere, emissions have decreased by around 10 per cent, but the report acknowledges that cutting down on business travel is a tough nut to crack.

At the end of the day, Freshfields’ effort is highly laudable and the mere virtue of having a report enables an analysis to take place of where and how changes must be made to meet stated CSR aims.