|Oregon State Bar Bulletin NOVEMBER 2011|
Dick Roy, co-director of the Center for Earth Leadership and a key founder of Oregon Lawyers for a Sustainable Future, likes to focus on the opportunities lawyers have to become leaders in sustainability. They have the skills, the access and the social imperative to lead the green charge, he believes.
But Roy does not wear rose-colored glasses to examine the challenges facing lawyers who are growing green. Ask him about the obstacles and he has ready a hefty list: limiting self-perceptions; little professional encouragement or reward; pressure to generate income while limiting costs; the need to meet clients’ short-term, daily priorities; a focus on immediate goals; and a professional culture that values image and affluence over simplicity.
Although the list appears daunting, attorneys and law firm administrators striving to promote sustainability in their professional and personal lives indicate the impediments are rooted in two areas: perceptions and choices — two areas that proved to be obstacles at the start of the Oregon State Bar’s organized sustainability efforts in 2006. Five years into the effort, however, some perceptions have changed and lawyers are examining their choices.
Green Ideas First Greeted With Suspicion
When Roy first approached the Oregon State Bar Board of Governors in 2006 with the idea of encouraging the legal profession to play a more visible role in the sustainability movement, he was greeted with polite but cool interest. “At the time, the board felt that sustainability was outside its purview and suggested that I work with bar sections directly because each section has a fair amount of autonomy in defining goals and objectives,” Roy says.
“The thought at the time was that Dick was way out there,” remembers Jim Kennedy, a partner in the Kennedy and Kennedy law firm, who was active in formation of the OSB Sustainable Future Section and has chaired the group for two years. “There was significant fear among lawyers of alienating some clients.”
Max Miller, a shareholder with Tonkon Torp in Portland, co-chairs his firm’s sustainability practice group. He recalls the resistance from firm management when he and another shareholder first proposed forming a green committee in 2000. “Early on there was a basic notion that a green committee would espouse a green agenda with political leanings toward the far left,” he says. “There was concern that green efforts would turn off clients.”
Miller and his green team were not deterred. “We became a guerilla group and started implementing things we could do without management approval. We focused on eco-efficiencies, saving money through ecological efforts.”
Over time, Tonkon Torp’s management committee decided the green team’s interest in sustainability was not politically motivated. In 2007 the firm endorsed the group as an official committee and gave them a budget.
Lawyer Acceptance Sways Board of Governors
Likewise, as acceptance and interest in sustainability grew among Oregon lawyers and the state in general, the OSB Board of Governors became more receptive to Roy’s proposals. In 2008 they created a Sustainability Task Force, which led to creation in 2009 of the bar’s Sustainable Future Section and adoption of an OSB bylaw on sustainability.
The section is charged with supporting sustainability in the profession by providing institutional expertise, education and a venue for dialogue on how law interfaces with the needs and interests of future generations. Their activities include publishing a quarterly newsletter, presenting CLE programs and presenting annual awards for law office and lawyer leadership in sustainability.
Many of these efforts are designed to overcome obstacles to action. The awards provide professional recognition. The newsletter and CLEs help attorneys expand their knowledge and expertise in sustainability, better equipping them to contribute to the profession’s green efforts.
“I give the board a pat on the back for adopting the policies in 2009,” says Roy. “The Oregon State Bar is way ahead of the pack of other bar associations in how they support sustainability.”
Clients have also changed their perceptions and expectations. Dick Templeman, director of operations for Portland firm Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, says it’s not uncommon to see RFPs from potential clients asking about sustainability policies. He also recalls with chagrin when a client called to complain about receiving a long document that had been printed inadvertently on only one side of the paper. Typically, the firm prints everything double-sided and has implemented an award-winning sustainability program. Schwabe has been named the recipient of the 2011 Sustainable Law Office Leadership Award by the bar’s Sustainable Future Section.
“There’s been a bit of sea change in the way sustainability is viewed by clients and lawyers,” Miller notes. Last year the former green guerilla received the Oregon State Bar’s first individual Sustainable Leadership Award in recognition of his volunteer leadership in moving the legal profession to embrace sustainability. Ater Wynne received the section’s first Law Office Leadership Award in 2010.
Focus Shifts to Personal, Professional Limitations
So what’s the perception impeding lawyers’ efforts in sustainability today? It’s a broad version of what Dick Roy refers to as a self-limiting perception: the belief that lawyers have nothing special to offer the sustainability movement beyond what any concerned citizen might have to offer. In addition, many attorneys feel that the potential client conflicts, financial obligations and time commitments they face make it difficult to participate in the profession’s sustainability effort.
Ralph Bloemers, co-founder of Crag Law Center, a public interest environmental law firm, understands the perception but doesn’t buy into it. “Lawyers have been a key part in working on the most significant challenges of our times,” he says. “If they want to find a way to make a difference, they have the skills to do it,” he says.
In a firm setting, where client conflicts and pressure to meet billable hours are realities, attorneys may be deterred from taking on pro bono environmental work. But that doesn’t mean an attorney or firm can’t contribute to the sustainability movement.
“Serve on the board of an organization and ask good questions about how things are done. Poke around. Find something that fits your philosophy,” says Bloemers.
Miller of Tonkon Torp agrees and notes potential bottom-line benefits as well. “If people participate in something they’re personally interested in, they dive in and become involved with people with similar interests. That tends to be good client development.”
Firms have learned that simple changes to everyday habits can provide significant contributions too. Templeman was astounded when Schwabe’s 2003 sustainability audit revealed the firm was disposing of roughly 30,000 paper Starbuck’s coffee cups per year. With a Starbuck’s shop on their building’s first floor, picking up a cup of coffee on the way to the office was a popular habit. The firm worked with the coffee shop to stock insulated, re-useable “Schwabe mugs” that attorneys and staff can request instead of paper cups. The mugs are washed at Schwabe and returned to Starbuck’s at the end of each day.
“You don’t realize how much you consume until you look at the whole picture,” says Templeman.
“We’re told these problems are complex, that there’s nothing that can be done,” says Bloemers, referring to peoples’ perception that the world’s sustainability issues are too immense to tackle. “It’s simply not true. Something can be done.”
New Efforts Include Collaboration, Education
Encouraging sustainable stewardship in others, whether vendors, clients, colleagues or kids, is another way to make an impact. At Schwabe, Templeman alerts vendors to the firm’s sustainability policy so they’ll watch for new products and innovations to support the firm’s green goals. At Tonkon Torp, Miller encourages clients to ask for sustainability policies as part of their RFP process. He hosted a barbeque at his house following an all-firm ivy-pull at Tryon Creek State Park and works to keep his green team motivated.
“There’s a fair amount of celebrating successes,” at Tonkon Torp, he says. “It helps motivate people to see efforts they’ve made are coming to fruition and things are changing.”
Diane Henkels, a sole practitioner with clients on the coast and in Portland, views legal issues through a lens of sustainability and tries to share that view with clients. In business issues, “I look at where the clients get their resources, how they use them, and what they’ll do with them when they’re done. I go through the full cycle of resources use,” she says of her thought process. “It’s an attorney’s job to educate the client on the options available. Some options are traditional, but you want to open your clients to the full range of possibilities. Ultimately, though the client makes the call.”
Janna Aginsky, a real estate and forest products lawyer with Schwabe, is one of the attorneys heading-up the firm’s sponsorship of Youth Leaders for Sustainability Camp. The camp, organized by Portland State Univesity’s College of Urban and Public Affairs and the Oregon State University 4H Extension Service, is designed to teach middle school youth sustainability concepts through experiential learning. The week-long camp concludes with a ceremony at Schwabe’s Portland office where students present their Action Plans for Sustainability. “This is one of the best parts of what we do to help focus future generations on sustainability,” she says.
Choice by One Affects Choices of Many
With attorneys and the Sustainable Future Section felling misperceptions like trees in an overplanted forest, personal choice may be the greatest remaining obstacle to lawyer participation in sustainability.
Jacqui Bishop, a sole practitioner in Hood River, consciously strives for simplicity in her practice. Her office is small and centrally located. She purchased her quality office furniture from “ReStore.” She walks to the library nearby if she needs a book, and she is adept at online research. With her laptop and cell phone, she communicates easily with remote clients from around the state. Half her practice is contract work for other firms. She runs into obstacles when she encounters firms that have not chosen to go paperless.
“There is a deep-rooted belief with some firms, that comes from years and years of experience with paper files, that you have to have a big folder of documents in order have a complete file,” she says. Obtaining the paper file requires driving or shipping, which uses gas, and storing the file takes space she doesn’t have. Electronic files that can be shared via email or cloud computing are much simpler to deal with. Bishop’s sustainable choices are affected by how tech-savvy others choose to become.
She also notes the role of firm leadership in influencing sustainable choices. “A lot of the things I do now I could have easily done in my former firm,” she observes. “However, law offices are traditional places. There can be a lot of pressure for younger lawyers to work the same way their bosses do.”
Aginsky appreciates her firm’s support in pursuing sustainable efforts and expertise. As her clients became more involved in sustainability issues, she chose to pursue a LEED Green Associate Credential through the Green Building Certification Institute. Obtaining the credential took her more than 50 hours’ time, and more than $500 of firm money for the prep courses, application and exam fees. Several other lawyers at her firm are also credentialed.
“I’m definitely investing a lot of time learning about issues involved in sustainability,” she admits. “It’s a challenge, but I believe it’s part of our job as lawyers to provide better service for our clients.”
Personal Obstacles Prove the Most Challenging
Ultimately, “You have to figure out what’s important to you,” advises Bloemers, co-founder of the public interest firm. After graduating from Willamette University College of Law in 1998, Bloemers worked for three years at Stoel Rives as a corporate lawyer. When he and fellow attorney Chris Winter started planning their nonprofit firm, he still had law school bills to pay and wanted to plan for the future. He also enjoyed the prestige and the income of a job with a large firm.
“The idea for our public interest firm was to provide low cost, professional legal service for the conservation and environmental justice movement to address the degradation of the environment,” he explains. “The reason I went to law school was to get the skills to work on what I see as the most important social justice issue of our time.”
But the lofty idea came with significant risks: no guaranteed income, benefits or work. Bloemers admits that his own hesitation was the biggest obstacle to starting his own firm. “I wanted to make sure I could take care of myself.”
He and his law partner first worked from home offices and lived off their savings. As the firm gained financial footing through work, contributions and grants, he and Winter leased an office. Bloemers rented out half of his house for the last 10 years to make ends meet. He recently started a family. He refers to his choices as adjustments, not sacrifices.
“It’s hard to overcome the personal obstacles,” he concedes. “I had to examine what taking care of myself really meant.”
Those active in the sustainability movement hope to influence such self-reflection by others. The Sustainable Future Section will soon unveil the Partners in Sustainability program, a rigorous, self-certifying program for law firms, and is working on CLEs and newsletters. Says Roy, “Now that awareness has increased, we have to work on motivation.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karen McGlone is a Portland freelance writer and communications consultant. She has more than 13 years’ experience in law firm marketing.
© 2011 Karen McGlone