The Mandate of Social Value in Law Firms

Demonstrating a commitment to CSR is now an integral part of legal life. Social impact is often generated by law firms funding charitable projects, launching a foundation, organising volunteering projects and introducing sustainability initiatives.

Here Chris Farrell, Managing Director of Impact Reporting, a bespoke CSR and sustainability reporting tool, discusses the importance of reporting on CSR in the legal sector.

Social investment

‘CSR’ and ‘sustainability’ are becoming more and more recognised within the legal sector as firms develop a growing awareness that they need defined social, environmental and sustainability goals.

Legal firms are looking at practical ways to tackle issues such as reducing emissions through energy initiatives and people-focused outreach programmes like staff training. However, there is still an underlying perception that considers CSR as ‘low priority’ in the business space, traditionally resulting in small budgets, unambitious actions, and a general lack of strategic decision making.

It is worth therefore, reiterating the business case for CSR, and it’s reporting. Leading in CSR promotes a point of difference to clients, stakeholders and people, helping firms receive positive recognition in local markets.

Yet, to maintain sector-leader status, firms need to back up these statements with robust and reliable CSR data. Firms need to start taking CSR reporting seriously and put it back on the agenda in order for them, and their clients, to truly ‘buy-in’ to their value.

Understanding value in CSR

The frameworks and methodologies associated with CSR measurement may differ between organisations and sectors, yet some key themes are pertinent across all industries. For example, analysing common inputs – money invested in charities, time spent volunteering, or trees planted is often balanced with common outputs – jobs created, lives saved, and a reduction in carbon emissions.

One attractive approach, particularly in corporate circles, is calculating social value as a ‘Social Return-on-Investment’ (sROI). This relates to the perceived monetised value of an organisation’s social impact and is a very specific, granular methodological way of understanding the monetised impact of a CSR project.

Alternatively, firms can be led by their organisational purpose to drive their CSR strategy. Leading with purpose-first means that decisions reflect the preference of the end-user or community you want to help.

It is important to be aware of the qualitative data – the narratives and experiences – that also exist. These are often overlooked but are an effective way of contextualising your impact and humanising your corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting.

Capturing accurate data

CSR is drastically influencing business behaviour in the legal sector and is increasingly being seen an effective and responsible strategy for setting organisations apart. This is reinforced by the expectations of consumers and employees and their ever-growing want to engage in pro-social initiatives.

How social impact is recorded, analysed and reported is just as important as how it is created – the information you get out is only as good as the data you put in.

Updating and quantifying data live is crucial. It’s already standard practice for HR, sales and financial data to be captured robustly and accurately in real-time – and now the norms for social value data capture are catching up. Google Analytics, Xero, SalesForce, and intranet systems are all updated live, and reports can be gathered at the click of a button, without the hassle of manually compiling data from multiple sources.

In short, having all social value data feeding into one central database is advantageous as it allows for regular updates, clear messaging, and the ability to prove compliance with recognised standards.

Reaching the right goals

Quantifying social value in an accurate and consistent way is key for all law firms. Aligning to and supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – 17 global goals set by the UN in 2015 – is a straightforward and ethical way of benchmarking the impact of many value-based businesses. These are a blueprint to achieve a more sustainable future and address global challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice.

We encourage our clients to align to the UN’s SDGs because of their worldwide and future-proofed applicability. Organisations track and report on their pro-social and pro-environmental activities according to which SDGs they contribute towards – to provide structure and help employees understand the greater goals they are helping to achieve.

The power of social investment

Demonstrating a social impact is not a legal obligation for all sectors but that doesn’t mean legal firms shouldn’t celebrate the good work they do. We’re at the beginning of monitoring and truly understanding the value of social impact but with the ease of access, and cost-effectiveness of digital media, this behaviour is becoming commonplace across almost all legal firms regardless of size.

CSR aids law firms by making them more efficient and leads to higher engagement amongst employees. It is also a key variable that attracts top talent and converts new business. Firms who are successful at doing this, have benefited from more investment, better strategic decision making, and increased sustainable growth.

Ten top tips to create social value buy-in

  1. Letting employees choose charities – While having a ‘charity of the year’ is the norm in corporate circles, asking staff to nominate a chosen charity can help make this process more democratic. Allow staff to vote from a list and partner with the winning charity – this will help with engagement
  2. Developing employee initiatives – Organise lunchtime cycling, weekend volunteering and recycling projects for all to get involved. Open the floor to suggestions, allowing employees to make recommendations that are important to them. The most popular ideas are often the most successful.
  3. Building social value into client contracts – Insist that partner organisations prioritise social value too. This is the norm in public sector contracts and is becoming more familiar across a wider range of sectors. It is a sure-fire way to help organisations stand out in business circles.
  4. Leading from the top – The most successful CSR-focused businesses have CEOs and MDs who are active and committed to a social value mission statement. To show how dedicated a business is to the cause, encourage the CEO/MD to get involved so they become an example for all staff.
  5. Adopting a framework – The time is now to be serious about CSR. Paying lip-service won’t give businesses the desired results. Set real objectives with fixed timeframes, and work towards those.
  6. Aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Benchmark achievements against 17 global goals set by the UN in 2015 to achieve a more sustainable future and address global challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. These will help drive growth, attract capital and focus on purpose and offers accountability and assessment.
  7. Gamifying the creation of social value – Inspire employees to do more and get competitive about it. For example, set up a leader board and offer prizes as incentives. Motivate employees by appealing to their competitive nature.
  8. Starting with the basics – Transforming a business’s attitude to social value won’t be an over-night process. It’s OK to start small and scale up. Get rid of plastics, put recycling bins in place, ditch cars, use public transport or walk into work.
  9. Listening to stakeholders – Align with the organisation’s mission, vision or values. To truly embed social value into a business, it needs to harmonise. It’s about working towards a culture whereby social impact is created naturally and fluidly.
  10. Working with pro-social companies – Be open to partnering with social enterprises, charities, or other ‘good’ companies at all stages of negotiating contracts. Learn from each other, offer solutions and network with likeminded people. Move forward, together.

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