Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a prerequisite for any forward-looking, modern workplace. In recent decades, both firms and clients alike have been holding themselves to higher and higher standards, which is reflected in how business is carried out, today.
William Fry has been working towards solidifying our reputation as a socially responsible Firm and to that end, the partnership has focused increased attention on earning accolades to support this. In February William Fry will become the second Irish law firm ever to be awarded with the Business Working Responsibly mark (the Mark).
According to its awarding body, Business in the Community Ireland (BITC), the Mark is a strategic management assessment framework, that fosters a culture of continuous improvement and ongoing accountability in relation to an organisation’s approach towards specific areas of corporate social responsibility, like environmental, economic and social issues.
In 2016, CSR funding was being increased within the Firm by the then Managing Partner, Bryan Bourke, which led to a dialogue opening up between BITC and Marketing B&D’s Bethany Fiore.
“Bryan heard about the Mark and thought that it would be really good to have an external consultant come in and help us to do a full review of our CSR, guide us and provide expertise to establish a really comprehensive program”, said Bethany.
We had a long history of giving back including volunteering, donating and fundraising, but what BITC helped us do was to expand our view of CSR beyond community charity, to incorporate governance, communications, environment, workplace and marketplace.
“This all comes together to form a holistic view of what it means to operate as a responsible business.”
William Fry is one of only 46 companies in Ireland to have been awarded the Mark, which the firm had been building towards since 2016. During that time the Firm had to re-evaluate the way it operates and implement a range of changes. An independent audit by the NSAI was then carried out to review the changes, grading the Firm along its journey to receiving the Mark. Going forward, William Fry will be audited every three years to ensure continued compliance.
Managing Partner Owen O’Sullivan said, “William Fry is dedicated to working responsibly and improving our approach towards all areas of CSR. It is our duty to lead by example and help to create a better business environment for everyone.”
Understandably, William Fry staff are busier than ever, meeting deadlines, dealing with pressure for billable hours and bringing in business, not to mention family commitments, so it’s a credit to the teams in house that find time to invest in pro bono work, attend CSR events and generally give back. However, in the programme’s infancy, there were some understandable challenges in helping people to see the value of the Mark.
“Firstly, we had to help people see CSR as more than just community outreach, that being responsible reached out into a lot of different areas,” said Bethany. “Our pro bono work is vital, but so is our energy and waste management. Not to mention understanding the impact individual actions have on the wider Firm and the wider goals that we have.
“It was really challenging to get people to understand the client care aspects and that how we interact with our clients is part of being responsible. It’s about authenticity, it’s about integrity and those are core to the legal profession, meaning we had a good basis to work from.”
“The biggest challenge was just getting people to see that this wasn’t a nice to have anymore, that it was a need to have that our clients expected it, saying things to us like, ‘Actually CSR is important to our business and we’re looking at our supply chain and as a professional services firm, you’re part of that supply chain so we need to know that you are doing the right thing in the community and in the environment, in your workplace.’ That’s where the clients really were very helpful in the journey.”
The Mark is in good company inside William Fry’s trophy cabinet, alongside the IBEC Keep Well mark and the Investors in Diversity Bronze and Silver accreditations. Going forward, William Fry is targeting the Investors in Diversity Gold and some of the ISOs in relation to environmental and energy management, which are important to support the Firm’s commitment to net-zero emissions.
Thanks to Bryan Bourke, Bethany Fiore, Owen O’Sullivan, the partnership and everyone in William Fry who dedicated time and energy to help the Firm achieve this important award. We ask that other Irish law firms take the same steps towards working responsibly.