The Role of Business Development and Marketing in a Law Firm’s Sustainability Journey
By Christina Buensuceso
January 06, 2022 | 4-minute read
Business of Law Process Improvement Content Type Article
While sustainability initiatives have existed at law firms for several years, the wider push for the private sector to participate in overall decarbonization efforts has put an increased focus on sustainability and the ‘E’ of ESG (or environmental, social and corporate governance) for organizations across all industries — including professional services firms. Many law firms are responding to this growing call by increasing their sustainability efforts. What may have started with recycling initiatives, double-sided printing and implementing energy-efficient solutions in the office has now grown to net zero commitments and decarbonization plans. In 2021, the Net Zero Lawyers Alliance, an organization committed to accelerating the transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, launched with more than 20 international law firm members1.
The pressure for firms to heighten their focus on sustainability issues is coming directly from clients, current employees, potential new hires and society at large. The client impetus is especially resonant. Most clients are under pressure from investors, lenders and other stakeholders to disclose their climate-related risks and plan a path for decarbonization. Forbes reported in 2021 that about one-fifth, or 21%, of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies have committed to meet net zero targets2. As companies announce their own climate commitments, many of those companies expect the vendors who contribute to their carbon footprint, such as outside counsel law firms, to align with their decarbonization plan.
The legal business developer or marketer can play an important role in progressing their law firm’s sustainability strategy. These positions lend themselves naturally to gleaning insight into the client’s perspective, engaging with various stakeholders throughout the firm to make the case for a sustainability strategy, and communicating the firm’s sustainability agenda and progress toward key benchmarks to the public in a transparent way. Most importantly, legal business development (BD) and marketing professionals can articulate the value proposition of having a sustainability strategy to prospective and current clients, and how the firm’s sustainability efforts will enhance client service and value.
The legal business developer or marketer can play an important role in progressing their law firm’s sustainability strategy.
As the typical first point of contact for requests for proposals (RFPs), legal marketers are in an ideal position to gather intelligence on how clients are prioritizing sustainability. Many clients use the RFP process as an opportunity to outline their requirements outside of legal capability. Just as it has become common practice for a client’s RFP to ask about a firm’s data privacy protocol or diversity metrics, it is also becoming more common for a client RFP to inquire about a firm’s greenhouse gas emissions or efforts at minimizing environmental impact. The Law Firm Sustainability Network, an organization of U.S. law firms committed to promoting environmental sustainability in the legal industry, published its annual Landscape Survey in 2021 and found that 87% of approximately 50 law firm respondents reported receiving RFPs that asked about environmental efforts3.
Legal business developers and marketers are also well-positioned to help build and make the case for a sustainability strategy. A firm’s BD and marketing team is one of few business service teams within the law firm structure that has regular engagement with other administrative departments. From accounting to facilities, IT, recruitment, professional development and attorney stakeholders, a firm’s sustainability initiative will require the input and buy-in of nearly every department within the firm. A legal business developer and marketer with established relationships with multiple departments can play a pivotal role by inputting into the sustainability strategy in a way that acknowledges the priorities of each stakeholder group. If a law firm has a sustainability committee, the task of developing and making the internal case will be led by the committee, but a BD and marketing professional can bring their valuable insight to the process to support their work.
Once a sustainability strategy has been developed, a legal BD and marketing professional is ideally suited to develop a marketing plan that conveys the firm’s sustainability agenda to the public. They are also ideally positioned to build a regular communications plan that updates clients and other stakeholders with the firm’s progress toward meeting key sustainability benchmarks in a transparent way. The business developer and marketer must be sensitive to crafting messages that could be perceived as greenwashing or providing a lot of sustainability rhetoric without action. BD and marketing professionals are in the ideal position to develop messaging that is straightforward without embellishment, while at the same time compelling in its ability to articulate the value proposition of the firm’s sustainability agenda to all stakeholders.
As more law firms look to develop sustainability policies and frameworks, they will also hopefully look to their BD and marketing professionals to support this important work. With honed skills for understanding the client’s perspective, consensus-building and effecting change, the business developer and marketer can play a crucial role in advancing the firm’s sustainability agenda.
Christina Buensuceso is Director of Business Development at Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm.
1 “Over 20 International Law Firms Launch Sustainability Commitment,” Law.com, June 30, 2021.
2 “A Fifth of the World’s Largest Companies Committed to Net Zero Target,” Forbes, March 24, 2021.
3 “A Road Map For Creating Law Firm Sustainability Programs,” Law360 Pulse, November 1, 2021.