In a recent New York Times article, The Tyranny of Billable Hours, the veil is lifted on a law firm practice that, even when viewed in the best possible light, exposes the dark side of many law firms’ motives. In my 15 years as a General Counsel at the Pacific Stock Exchange, Boston Stock Exchange, and two start-ups that raised over $400 million, I worked with many different law firms, and came to this realization: while most of the individual lawyers that I worked with were knowledgeable, responsive, and personally good people, the mainstream legal services system itself was completely flawed when examined from a sustainable business perspective.
The foundation that law firms are typically built upon is providing legal services to all manner of clients, regardless of what impact those clients’ activities may have on society and the planet. Clients are typically chosen based on ability to pay, not on whether their practices support sustainability.
Even in the very few law firms that espouse some form of sustainability, services are provided to any client with cash, regardless of clients’ impacts on their workers, suppliers, communities or the planet. If, in the words of age-old wisdom, “your attention is your intention,” then few, if any, of these firms could be found to honestly and whole-heartedly advocate sustainable communities.
As I entered private law practice, I found no example of a firm that filtered its client base to avoid supporting activities detrimental to the planet – nor were any firms solely focused on sustainable companies.
Just as businesses committed to sustainable practices have switched to sourcing from locally-owned suppliers, moved their money to responsible banks, and divested from holdings that damage the planet, the practice of employing mission-aligned service providers should be no exception. Businesses that truly value the restoration of a healthy planet for future generations throughout all of their operations should apply the same admonition when it comes to selecting a socially and environmentally responsible law firm.
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