B Corps: the future for law firms?
Dana Denis-Smith explains why she decided to pursue a B Corp certification for her firm.
Recently I was proud to announce my firm as just the 12th UK legal business to achieve B Corp certification. In doing so we joined the likes of Anthony Collins, Bates Wells, Brabners, Radiant Law and Stephens Scown to achieve accreditation.
The certification demonstrates that we have met rigorous social and environmental standards, representing our commitment to goals outside of shareholder profit.
The B Corp movement began in the US in 2006 when three friends brought to life their shared vision to make business a force for good. The following year, the first 82 B Corps were certified. Today, there are over 7,400 certified B Corps across 92 countries operating in 161 industries.
In the UK there are over 1,500, yet fewer than 1 per cent of these are in legal services. So there is an huge opportunity for legal business of all stripes to take advantage of the movement.
One of the reasons we were attracted to becoming a B Corp was its rigour. This is not just about being seen to do the right thing. It is about consciously and continually improving your businesses’ impact; there can be no resting on laurels.
As our 2022 report, Legal Reset, identified, there is not only a significant need for cultural change among law firms, but also a wholesale cultural reset of their values.
It’s no longer enough to say simply that law firms exist to provide legal services. More is expected of organisations. This is why B Corp certification makes so much sense for law firms who are serious about their commitment to doing good, and are also serious about safeguarding their futures.
So why are so few applying? Perhaps one of the reasons for such a low take-up among law firms is the misconception that you somehow have to sacrifice profit in order to do good. Look at some of the highly profitable and well-known names that are B Corps to dispel that myth, brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Brewdog and Mindful Chef.
There’s an important message for the legal profession: that you can pursue both profit and purpose. You don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. In fact, given the way environmental, societal and governance issues are driving corporate agendas today, B Corp certification provides the profession with a recognised way of aligning with client agendas.
The B Corp certification addresses the entirety of a business’s operations and covers five key impact areas: governance, workers, community, environment and customers. Make no mistake, the certification process is rigorous, with applicants required to reach a benchmark score of over 80 while providing evidence of socially and environmentally responsible practices relating to energy supplies, waste and water use, worker compensation, diversity and corporate transparency. It took us nine months to achieve, and we have to do it all over again in three years.
Yet for us, achieving certification provides external validation of the values we have held since day one. The certification process was rigorous, lengthy, and highly evidential. We’ve been pushed to become the very best business we can be. As a result, we have created an improved and sustainable business framework. Why wouldn’t a law firm want that for their business?
The certification safeguards our founding principle of ‘Human First’. For our team, it shows them that we’re serious about treating them like people, not profit centres. For our clients, it provides them with the reassurance that we actively pursue a better way of doing business and they can access not only a quality legal service, but one that centres on ethical business principles.
As part of the certification process, you legally commit to changing your corporate governance structure to be accountable to all stakeholders, not just shareholders. This change is reflected in your company articles and is a mandatory requirement of certification.
So convinced am I that this is the future for the legal profession, I am planning to introduce a quarterly webinar, B the Change, to encourage clients, consultants and other legal providers to engage more closely with the B Corp model and discuss the new form of purpose-led business it advocates.
Dana Denis-Smith, founder and CEO of Obelisk Support.