There are three big areas of disconnect, when it comes to talking to clients (and particularly those in the legal sector) about responsibility and how it fits into strategic planning and marketing.
First, when you say “responsibility” most people think solely about the environment, rather than a bigger picture that includes social and corporate responsibility.
Second, actually… when you say “responsibility” many people put their metaphorical fingers in their commercial ears and think about charity work… perhaps apprenticeships, at a push.
Finally, lawyers are interested in making sure they’re advising their clients on their legal obligations and risks, not in preaching to them about how they should run their businesses. It isn’t terribly easy to work out how your marketing could, and should be ‘responsible’, or how you might work with clients to help them be more responsible. In short, why is this something that those valuable, six-minute time chunks should be spent on? And why is a marketing agency banging on about it?
Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate Social Responsibility has been around for a long time and you don’t have to look terribly hard to find examples of law firms engaging in it. Everything from ad-hoc activities like decorating a youth centre counselling room to more structured, corporate-level programmes supported by staffing and infrastructure. The problem is, CSR has tended to be ‘corporate-speak’ for charitable work. And, while there is no denying that charitable contribution is needed and valuable, that’s not what we mean when we talk about ‘responsibility’.
The Triple Bottom Line
At ELE Global we’re advocates of the Triple Bottom Line, recording and reporting on performance across economic, environmental and social measures. We think law firms are perfectly placed to influence systemic change across the business community by promoting this. And we believe the best marketing takes a similar approach – considering the different areas of society that interact and the impact our actions (or recommendations) have on them, as well as the economic results we can generate. But most importantly, we believe that a commitment to looking at each of the three areas, strategically, will not only benefit the world but provides the best platform for organisational growth and success.
Let us explain in a bit more detail. In 1994, the management consultant John Elkington coined the phrase “triple bottom line” as his way of measuring performance in corporate America. His idea was to focus on three areas (profit, people and the planet), measuring and reporting on an organisation’s financial, social and environmental performance over time. He believed that a firm that looks at profits only, ignoring people and the planet, cannot account for the full cost of doing business. Furthermore, he believed that a company can be managed in a way that not only earns financial profits but which also improves people’s lives and the planet.
So far, so good. What we’re talking about here is a challenge to change organisational focus away from ‘ticking the charity box’ to a fundamental, internally-focused change in how you actually run the organisation and interact with the outside world.
The law firm challenge
As time has gone on there has been a growth in the number of law firms moving away from stand-alone CSR and charity programmes to look at their own performance, implementing changes across recruitment/retention, environmental performance and client relationship management, as well as maintaining programmes and activities supporting the third-sector. Bates Wells, for example, has led the way as the UK’s first (and currently only one of two in the UK) B Corp. March is B Corp month “celebrating B Corps doing more to B the change” – challenging businesses to “be part of the solution to our greatest challenges”. Outside of the UK there are more law firms (40 in total) recognising the benefits of being part of a community committed to changing the way business is done, from the inside – and being brave enough to publish their performance across the triple bottom line, publicly. Importantly, those within the B Corp community consider it to be their responsibility to support and encourage others in moving towards a more responsible way of working. It’s an inspirational community to be a part of and one that the legal sector can learn more from.
The ‘responsible’ challenge
At ELE Global we created the agency to help organisations – particularly those in legal services – move from CSR to responsible business. But we think responsibility can and should go further than charitable activity and even changing your own organisational practises.
First, we think that it is the best way to be successful. We’re proud to put social and environmental responsibility at the heart of what we do. We want to be a force for good, helping organisations to do great things in a sustainable, decent way. But, more than this, we want to help our clients be successful and achieve their commercial objectives. And we believe that embracing the triple bottom line, and responsible practises is the way to go about it.
Second, we think the legal sector is uniquely placed to make a difference across the business community. How many law firm websites claim that their lawyers focus on achieving corporate objectives? That they’re committed to advising on more than just the law?
But how many actually take social and environmental responsibility into account when advising? How many realise that they hold the power to change the way business is done – not only by changing what they do in their firm, but in advising clients to change how they’re behaving?
Our challenge to you
We’ve worked in the legal sector long enough to realise that time is limited and valuable. And we want to be very, very clear… we’re recommending this approach as a way of generating new (and repeat) instruction, growing the firm and establishing stronger client relationships.
We want to deliver understandable marketing solutions that benefit our clients in a sustainable, economic way – without sacrificing human values. We want to help our clients grow and earn profit whilst also supporting the non-economic aspirations of those in and around their corporate community.
Firms are under scrutiny. More and more organisations are looking for advisors that can and will support them in making responsible commercial decisions, as well as in implementing different working practises. Furthermore, whether a start-up or established brand, organisations are increasingly seeking out suppliers that share their values.
This shift presents an opportunity for the legal sector to engage in clear, responsible marketing and the development of products and services that focus on responsible business practises.
We challenge you. Don’t stop just at charitable donations, sponsored runs and cake sales. Start thinking about responsibility commercially. Consider it within your strategic plan. Consider what each business function does (HR, finance, operations etc) and how. And, most importantly, consider how you’re communicating to the outside world. Is responsibility central to what you have to say?
Once you’ve done this, go even further. Consider the services you’re offering and the value they offer clients. Is responsibility central to what you actually do and the advice you give? Are you taking advantage of the opportunity your firm has for standing out from the pack and making a lasting difference? Are you seeking out opportunities to develop your offerings to include tools and services grounded in systemic commercial change? And are you considering responsibility with every piece of advice you give?
At ELE Global we offer a number of services designed to help those in the legal sector move to a more socially and environmentally responsible strategy. These range from initial reviews and support with the B Corp Impact Assessment process, through to strategic planning, product/service development and internal communications. For more information you can contact Helen on firstname.lastname@example.org.