Law firms seeking own standard for sustainability


Nixon Peabody LLP’s office at One Citizens Plaza in downtown Providence has joined the global effort to conserve energy and protect the environment, through a relatively new venture called the Law Firm Sustainability Network.
Boston-based Nixon Peabody, which has 1,400 employees worldwide, and 30 in Providence, is a founding member of LFSN, which last November submitted paperwork to incorporate as a nonprofit. The law firm is actively investigating a lighting retrofit of its Providence office, which could save the firm an estimated $8,000 annually, a 14 percent return on investment, according to Carolyn Kaplan, the firm’s chief sustainability officer.
Founded informally in 2011, LFSN has 26 participating law firms and legal departments, said President Peter E. Masaitis. He is a partner in the product-liability group for the Los Angeles office of Alston & Bird LLP and chairman of its national sustainability program.
“The LFSN is the group that is at … the forefront of sustainability initiatives, so, if a law firm cares about those issues this is the forum to be a part of,” Masaitis said.
So, why would law firms focus on sustainability?
Many businesses “enter strategic partnerships with nontraditional stakeholders to try to achieve a sustainability goal,” Kaplan said. Coffee makers have worked together to reduce the use of Styrofoam in coffee cups, for instance, she said.
“It’s the idea of uncommon collaboration between retailers and suppliers [who] understand how serious these global environmental issues are,” she said. “The same thing is happening in the legal industry. We’re not going to solve these huge global issues on our own. Only through collaboration can we really drive these global issues.”
On a practical level, as a group, lawyers generate a lot of paper, adds Kaplan, who sits on the LFSN’s board of directors. Their employees tend to engage in a lot of travel and lease offices, using a fair amount of energy day-to-day. So, the economic and business value of implementing sustainable practices has had strong appeal at member firms, including Nixon Peabody. “It’s part of our core and our culture: people think about sustainability as they do their jobs,” she said.
It wasn’t always that way. But by 2007, Kaplan – who joined the firm as part of its energy and environmental practice in 1997 – helped raise colleagues’ awareness and launch the firm’s “Legally Green” initiative.
“Personnel and clients were asking [about sustainability] in our practices with respect to energy efficiency, recycling, paper reduction, and there was increased interest, with individual offices focusing in a piecemeal way,” she said. “The firm wanted to take a firmwide approach. We found by doing so we could make progress, and that would help to reduce operating costs while simultaneously reducing our environmental footprint.”
Some of the ways Nixon Peabody has gone green, reducing waste and costs, include sending bills to clients by PDF online instead of by mail or, when pre-billing on paper, ensuring that the bills are printed on both sides of a page, she said.
In addition to video conferencing as a means of cutting down on travel, she added, an electronic system is used with direct deposit for reimbursement. Human resources also does 100 percent of its recruiting online, she said.
Some savings are significant. Nixon Peabody reports a 30 percent reduction in power consumption and related costs from centralizing data centers, consolidating storage assets, and putting servers online. The amount of paper purchased has been cut by 15 percent and related costs reduced by $49,000 annually, the company states. At, LFSN’s mission statement sums up the reason why competing businesses might want to work together to go green.
“We believe,” the mission statement on the home page reads, “[that] by working collaboratively and giving firms essential tools and resources, we can have an ever-greater impact on preserving the environment. The LFSN’s mission is to develop key performance indicators, foster knowledge-sharing, develop best-practice guidelines, and recognize innovation regarding environmental sustainability in the U.S. legal sector.”
Part of that mission includes creating voluntary standards that, Masaitis and Kaplan hope, will become the industry standard. The annual membership dues, which range from $850 to $1,600 depending on the firm’s size, are helping to fund that effort, Masaitis said.
Masaitis and Gayatri Joshi, LFSN’s executive director and vice president of client management for ecoAnalyze, an eco-consultancy dedicated to law firms, expect the standards, which resemble the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building standards, to come out next year.
“It’s voluntary, like the LEED program, with a point system where you get points for what you implement in each category,” Joshi said. “You’re rewarded, not penalized for what you can’t implement.”
Masaitis is actively soliciting the support of the American Bar Association, he said.
“The goal is to get it recognized the way LEED is as the standard,” he said. “We want this to be a comprehensive standard.”
Ultimately, LFSN’s goal is “to engage other law firms in this conversation, share best practices and serve as a resource,” Kaplan said. “It’s really a great opportunity to learn from each other, no matter where you are in the sustainability continuum. So, all sizes and kinds of firms should feel welcome.” •

No posts to display