How To Update Your Legal Practice To Be Eco-Friendly
As an attorney, you dedicate the majority of your time and attention to a targeted set of issues that plague your clients. Complex cases call for a high level of concentration, of course, but at times, it’s important to take a step back and consider the many ways in which your law firm affects your community.
For example, no matter your background or your current practice area, climate change and the law are inextricably linked. As an attorney, both the cases you handle and how you run your practice can contribute to or mitigate environmental degradation.
While meaningful change is impossible without addressing public policy and corporate practices, we all still have a part to play. This is particularly true in the legal industry, as attorneys hold considerable influence in the public sphere. Seemingly minor adjustments can make a world of difference if adopted on a broad scale.
Interested in reducing your law firm’s carbon footprint? Make your mark by implementing these climate-friendly practices:
Calculate Your Carbon Footprint
Tracking metrics is key to success in marketing, client retention, and many other day-to-day law firm essentials. Analytics is just as important in making the shift to sustainable practices. You need to know your current status before you can make meaningful changes.
Tracking emissions can prove surprisingly difficult in the U.S., where we have yet to implement a program on the scale of the U.K.’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Still, we can look to the U.K.’s resources and solutions as inspiration. Many providers now offer audits and sustainability consulting services for small and midsized businesses (SMBs); if these are out of reach, solutions such as Green Places’ sustainability tool can provide powerful insight.
In addition to tracking your practice-based carbon footprint, consider how you and your employees promote or limit sustainability when you’re away from work. A variety of free or affordable resources provide easy access to personal carbon footprint calculators. Top options include The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA) tools.
Choose Your Clients Carefully
As an attorney, every clientele decision you make carries weight throughout your community. After all, the cases you take on say a lot about your values.
Through strategic selection, you can promote the philosophies you hold dear. As an eco-conscious attorney, it’s your duty to align your practice with clients and cases that underscore your intention to promote sustainable practices.
For example, suppose you primarily handle zoning and land use cases. In that case, you can assist in overcoming NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitudes to ensure that eco-friendly projects (such as higher-density housing or sustainable facility construction) are completed. Likewise, as an immigration attorney, you can commit to helping those who have been displaced by climate-related disasters.
Turning down clients will prove just as important. If you take issue with a particular company’s environmental practices, avoid a representation that could enable or contribute to this ecologically negligent conduct.
Cut Down on Paper Waste
While the stereotypical law office is piled high with papers, this approach is by no means necessary. These days, alternative solutions abound, so there’s no excuse for printing out every filing or document.
If you need an extra incentive to go paperless, remember that many clients actually prefer this approach. Electronic billing, in particular, allows clients to make payments seamlessly, and without wasting paper. Employees may also be happy to bid farewell to paper-based invoices or time cards.
Another benefit? An all (or mostly) digital strategy promotes efficient document retrieval while also ensuring that edits are updated in real-time. Look to online communication platforms (such as Slack), case management software, and digital legal intake solutions to keep paper to a minimum.
Not sure you can make the full change to running a paperless law office? You don’t necessarily need to get rid of all physical materials. Simply assess your approach to determine where you can make digital substitutions. Should you choose to continue utilizing paper for specific applications, seek the most eco-friendly materials available.
Looking for another simple switch that can have a huge impact over time? Rethink your approach to lighting. Maximize natural sources of light when possible. This might mean placing desks closer to windows. When artificial lighting is necessary, opt for LEDs. Use smart lighting systems with sensors to ensure that the lights remain off when spaces are not in use.
If you or your fellow attorneys frequently attend professional conferences, it’s time to rethink your approach. Yes, there’s value in discussing relevant topics with a diverse array of legal professionals, but your jet-setting ways are environmentally problematic. Travel, especially by plane, is a huge source of emissions.
No, it’s not necessary to cut all travel to remain an eco-friendly legal practice, but even one or two fewer trips per year will dramatically reduce your carbon footprint. Consider attending more virtual conferences or selecting events closer to home.
Continue to cut back on travel-related carbon emissions by allowing employees to work remotely or, at minimum, on a hybrid basis. COVID lockdowns have demonstrated that all types of employees can complete a significant share of their work from the comfort of home.
Many employees appreciate the flexibility and convenience that remote work enables. If employees prefer or need to visit your office in person, incentivize them to use eco-friendly commuting methods such as bikes or public transit.
In addition to limiting attorney travel, you can help clients avoid law office commutes by promoting digital consultations. While some clients prefer to discuss complex matters in person, many will be happy to shift the better part of the process to a digital format.
At the outset, complete the intake process via a phone-based or digital workflow, further optimized by an eSign solution. Later on, be available to answer quick questions by phone or email so clients don’t need to drive to your practice as often. Solutions such as video conferencing can help you build rapport with clients even if you choose to keep the majority of your interactions strictly digital.
Do Your Part To Fight Climate Change
As an attorney, you are uniquely positioned to promote sustainable practices at your office and throughout your community. From rethinking your caseload to going paperless, options abound for reducing your law firm’s carbon footprint. These should extend beyond Earth Day to demonstrate a year-round commitment to sustainability. Don’t waste this opportunity to make a positive difference.