Corporate Social Responsibility – Ian Walker

What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

Like every other law firm that has achieved the Lexcel Practice Management Standard we have a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Policy.

But what does CSR actually mean? Is it just a marketing/PR strategy? Surely businesses are simply focused on making money?

Finding a definition For Corporate Social Responsibility

To understand what we are trying to achieve with Corporate Social Responsibility, the starting point has to be an understanding of what Corporate Social Responsibility actually means.

We found a helpful analysis of corporate social responsibility in the law industry in a research paper from the University of Birmingham in December 2015 entitled Symbolism over substance? Large law firms and corporate social responsibility. A spotlight on the research paper can be found at:

The research team at the University of Birmingham found that there was no single definition of CSR but summarised CSR as follows:

At its core, corporate social responsibility (CSR) concerns the impacts of businesses on their surroundings

Our Corporate Social Responsibility Policy

For our starting point we have used the resources from LEXIS-NEXIS – LEXIS are a leading provider of legal regulatory and business information and analytics. LEXIS publish a significant number of legal journals and books. We are subscribed to the LEXIS Library for family law and their practice support service – LEXIS PSL. This means all our lawyers have outstanding access to the tools they need to provide the best advice to clients. These resources are so much better than in the old days where we had to rely on buying new books every so often.

Our own CSR policy uses a precedent supplied by LEXIS as a starting point. This commences with a helpful summary:

The introduction to our CSR Policy reads as follows:

  • Introduction
    • We acknowledge that running our business has an effect on society. In particular, we have a responsibility to our clients, our employees and contractors as well as the broader community in which we operate.
    • We are committed to taking responsibility for our actions and encourage a positive contribution towards improving standards for our clients and employees, minimising our impact on the environment and improving the quality of the local community.
    • By putting CSR into practice, we are committed, wherever possible, to:
      • conducting ourselves responsibly and in an ethical manner
      • creating a positive and supportive working environment
      • supporting local communities
      • improving service levels to clients
      • acting fairly in our dealings with suppliers and other third parties
      • minimising the impact on our environment

Why are we committed to corporate social responsibility?

Interestingly, the University of Birmingham research found that where law firms do disclose what they are doing it could be defined as CSR -related activities – they seldom say why they are committed to CSR.

For us this is an easy question to answer.

We are a business and the objective of our business is to provide services to our clients for which we are paid. The business needs to make a profit. If it did not make a profit, then it couldn’t exist.

Law as a vocation

For us, legal practice is largely a vocation. It is about us using the law to assist distressed and vulnerable and upset clients and their children to achieve good outcomes to the family and children related difficulties they have encountered. Good outcomes are fairer outcomes and outcomes which are focused on the best needs of children. Good outcomes also require fair process.

As lawyers we made choices to pursue careers in family law including children law. Many of us also made choices to practice in cases funded by the legal aid agency and everyone our practice recognises that legal aid work is an important part of what we do.

We were not drawn into the practice of family law expecting to make lots and lots of money. Whilst law practice is reasonably paid – there are areas of law which are much better paid. With legal aid work – there are fewer areas of law work which are worst paid. (Legal aid payment rates are currently worse than they were 20 years ago – and much much much worse if you factor in inflation).

A commitment to people

For us, Corporate Social Responsibility is important because we are a collection of individuals who are all driven by a commitment to help people through difficult situations and to use our skills to achieve fairness. In short we are committed to Corporate Social Responsibility because it is in line with our values.

As a business we are trying to make a profit – but the profits that we are seeking are a reasonable level of profit and not excessive profits. There are no sports cars in our car park.

So what are we doing?

For us CSR is embedded into how we run business and what we do.

Examples include:

  • A commitment to the values of Resolution. These are about minimising distress and focusing upon achieving fair outcomes in the right way.
  • Our commitment to the values of resolution includes volunteering. Ian Walker as the long-standing chair of Devon Resolution and Lauren Preedy as chair of Somerset Resolution.
  • We are committed to a positive and supportive work environment for example by being a living wage employer; a long-standing commitment to flexible working; encouraging training; supporting diversity and inclusion and access to the legal profession – for example our first cohort of trainees solicitors are all the first in their families to go to university; we are very much committed to diversity and inclusion within our workplace.
  • being a positive working environment is also about the atmosphere in the office – talking to each other – asking the views of team members – trying to include everyone in the making of big decisions. A positive working environment also means avoiding petty and silly rules.
  • We have been less good at supporting local communities by sponsoring clubs or doing things like going on sponsored walks. But it is obviously easier to give/sponsor if your business is geared up to making excess profits and you are sponsoring things for PR. The community who we are particularly geared up to support our vulnerable children and their families where their lives become the subject of court proceedings brought by social services. These cases are a significant part of what we do, and we do this on a daily basis.
  • So far as service levels are concerned, we have introduced a client service guarantee. We are very much focused on how we can use technology to improve our working practices to the benefit of our clients.
  • Our objective in terms of the provision of legal services is to provide the expertise of being a niche practice combined with the quality and discipline of corporate law firms and combined further with the accessibility of the High Street. Our business model is therefore such that we have established locations where we can meet clients across the South West. This means that clients have expertise from a large and specialist team on their doorstep. We are also committed to ongoing use of videoconferencing – which enables us to meet clients over a much greater geographical area in a way which is incredibly convenient.
  • As a Real Living Wage Employer, we are committed to engage suppliers who where possible are also committed to paying their workforce at no less than the Real Living Wage. We endeavour to pay suppliers promptly and we endeavour to be a good business to do business with.
  • We are conscious of our impact on the environment. We are in the process of a journey towards a paperless office. We are committed to avoiding unnecessary travel – hence a commitment to the use of videoconferencing and having locations where we can meet clients which are convenient both to clients and to our team members. We encourage homeworking/flexible working – so not everyone needs to come into the office every day.

So hopefully you will see that our CSR is a mindset. It is not a marketing strategy. It is embedded in what we do.