The Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations have recently proposed solutions for how countries can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Their report outlined three pillars: doubling the efficiency of energy use, making electricity without releasing greenhouse gases, and shifting liquid and gaseous fuel sources to electricity to transportation, heating and cooling. At first, these solutions appear to target the energy sector; namely, those responsible for energy production, transportation and utilities (Mondaq, 2019).
Yet, the current climate has forced all citizens to rethink how and where they spend their money. Due to this, no business is exempt from scrutiny of their impact on the environment; law firms included. One may query how much of an impact law firms can truly be having on the environment, but through a few simple questions, this misgiving quickly starts to break down. This 5 minute read will explore this and give your law firm practical tips that you can implement easily in 2020.
“How much does a letter cost?” A common question posed by clients to law firms, with an often dissatisfying answer to which clients grunt and mumble “Is that including VAT?” Cost and legal value aside, clients are often shocked that a simple letter can cost them over £250 plus VAT (Armstrong, 2019). However, we know the letter is just the result of what can be a lot of unseen research and work. The point still stands, relying on paper communications is inefficient. A report from MetaJure found that lawyers spend 3.5 hours on average per week dealing with paper document problems, which in turn amounts to 1.4% of organisational productivity lost (MetaJure, 2016).
Despite this, law firms continue to insist upon using the humble letter (Armstrong, 2019). Of course, contracts often necessitate written print, but the continued use of letter-headed paper for updates, client care information and billing fits awkwardly with the digital world. Combining this with the somewhat disjointed approach that law firms take to client communication, characterised by ad hoc phone calls and emails with incompatible attachments, the clear business case for a communication overhaul becomes obvious.
Now, “how much does a letter cost the environment?” A question that clients will only begin to ask more and more. In the wake of a pandemic which has put societal and environmental values into sharp perspective, few businesses have escaped the consumer firing line; and law firms are no exception. There is no better time to think about the hidden cost of the humble letter. As National Geographic explains, paper production leads to deforestation, contributes to groundwater pollution, and accelerates global warming due to the large amounts of energy required to produce and transports reams of paper (OneLegal, 2016). Lawyers use more paper than any other industry. Research has shown that a single lawyer generates from 20,000 to 100,000 pages per year; around 50 pages an hour (Cleveland, 2019). That means that on average, a single lawyer destroys 10 trees per year (Ripple-Pack, 2018). Considering that the number of solicitors practising in England and Wales according to the SRA amounted to 149,621 as of May 2020, a simple addition of a zero of that number shows that law firms are by no means innocent in the climate crisis. 1.5 million trees destroyed per year by solicitors in England and Wales.
Communication through letters also prompts a lettered response. If a lawyer writes to their client in writing, then that client is likely to respond in the same guise. The solicitor of the opposing party may also respond in writing. Already, one single letter has created multiple other letters, emails and telephone calls, all of which are costly and increase emissions from the postal service and telecommunication infrastructures. Whilst these are perhaps newer challenges that law firms are slowly contending with, they only shed light on an old legal problem in a new form: outdated communication.
The Link App provides your firm with digital client portal software for better client communications. It offers a means for clients and their lawyers to interact through a single platform which avoids unnecessary inefficiencies and the expenditure of vast and costly energy. The Link App’s client communication software is encrypted, and hence facilities the transferring of traditional documents in a safe and accessible way. It also avoids the need for various, ad hoc communication channels which only lead to wasted time, dissatisfied clients and environmental damage. In one compact software that can be trialed on a monthly commitment basis, The Link App helps law firms tick all of the boxes that the Sustainable Development Solutions Network has recommended by helping law firms shift their energy consumption away from communication channels which rely on greenhouse gas emissions (Mondaq, 2019).
Whilst few businesses have reached the point of environmental redemption to date, digital communication is one simple way in which the legal community can show its commitment to what is at the forefront of clients’ minds. If the environmental benefits fail to convince, there is always the obvious business case for an easy competitive advantage on both the cost and public relations front too.
Originally published 27 / Jul / 2020