The Business Case for Law Firm ESG – Three Key Points

The moral and ethical arguments for acting on environmental sustainability and social impact are clear and widely discussed. Most of us, thankfully, agree that action is needed. At the same time, law firms have been – and in some cases are still being – very slow to respond. The reason for this is frequently that the business case needs to be made. From the firm’s perspective, the financial element of the Triple Bottom Line must be guaranteed. If you’re looking to drive your firm forward on its ESG journey and are needing to communicate to management the benefits and urgency of implementing a set of sound ESG policies and practices, here are three key points to the business case.


67% of [in-house] legal departments already ask their law firms to provide their ESG policies. Another 30% plan to begin doing so in the next three years.’

Sophisticated corporate clients and financial institutions are increasingly requesting ESG policies and data from their legal service providers. It is becoming part of the RFP process and part of their criteria for selecting panel firms. In some instances, ESG performance is now essential for retaining clients – the COO of a large international law firm recently said, ‘If we don’t hit our decarbonisation targets [for example], our clients will kick us off their panels.’ 

If your firm isn’t already in a position to communicate its ESG policies and data, the time to act is now. Many larger/international firms already see ESG performance as business critical, and it will trickle down to all firms in the coming years.  

Large/International Firms

As larger international firms are increasingly driven (by client demand and regulation/legislation) to report and improve their ESG performance, they in turn will place requirements on the firms they appoint as local counsel. To maintain an attractive proposition, national/regional firms will need to combine leading legal expertise with ESG performance. Being a regional leader on ESG would be a significant competitive advantage – not just for attracting clients but also for attracting and retaining talent.


40% of companies find recruiting key talent difficult because of 'weak' ESG policies.’

'Particularly among associates, a firm’s purpose goes beyond whether associates feel like they belong at a given law firm, and instead may determine whether they want to work for that firm in the first place.'

Younger lawyers in particular are driven to work for firms whose values align with theirs. They want to see that the firm they work for is supporting the causes and addressing the issues that are important to them. With the 'war for talent' featuring more and more as a key concern for law firms, strong ESG performance can be a differentiating factor and a key tool in talent attraction and retention. In just 6 years' time, 72% of the world's workforce will be either Gen Z or Millennial, i.e. demographics that are highly purpose driven. Firms that have not shown themselves as committed actors on the climate and biodiversity crisis, and on social impact, are going to lose out on key talent.