Go Green: Sustainability at Seyfarth Shaw LLP

Meagan Newman of Seyfarth Shaw LLP

It’s easy to be idealistic and to talk about sustainability measures, but what’s needed in the legal industry is a little less conversation and a little more action. Meagan Newman, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP and the firm’s representative to the Law Firm Sustainability Network, gives us tactical advice on how to make law firms more sustainable. It all starts with small steps and replacing old habits with “green” routines.

1. For attorneys and firms who want to be more sustainable, where is a good place to start? Start with the real nuts and bolts - paper and lights. Those are the easiest places to begin and you can make improvements in sustainability that require very few shifts in human behavior. We’ve also helped change behavior by designing our offices so there is no choice but to share a printer and encourage setting the default to dual-sided printing, providing filtered water for refillable bottles, and providing bicycle storage. Those are examples of the seemingly small changes that can actually have great impact across the organization. You can see real value add and real savings. These first steps make articulating the value proposition for additional initiatives much easier.

seyfarth green

2. What do you see as the biggest challenge to the legal industry in creating more sustainable business practices? Old habits die hard. Getting someone to make the move from single-sided printing to dual-sided printing doesn’t seem like it will be that hard, but it’s unbelievably difficult to build new habits. Human behavior is incredibly hard to change, which is why much of our Green Team focus is on the educational component and doing what we can to make “green” choices easier.

3. What is most exciting about the current state of law firm sustainability efforts? I am most excited about the trajectory and growth of law firm sustainability efforts. They are broadening the lens beyond basics like energy-efficient lighting and turning lights and electronics off at night. Firms are looking at sustainability in the same ways that our corporate clients are, using broader metrics -- and partnering with organizations in their communities.  This kind of change can really have a substantial impact.

4. Why did you personally want to take a lead in your firm’s sustainability initiative? It may sound naive, but I want to make the world a better place. As a law student, I was very interested in conservation and environmental issues. During my early years as a lawyer, I was working on environmental law, mainly with corporations on compliance and litigation. Later, I made the transition from environmental compliance to workplace safety and health.  Through my work at Seyfarth, there is tremendous opportunity to make the world a better place. It’s a large platform with incredible resources to help clients, and the firm, accomplish sustainability goals. Now, I am really excited about the ways that improvements in sustainability at our firm will carry over into the communities our employees live in and to a broader network.

light bulb recycling

5. What is unique about Seyfarth’s culture that supports sustainability? Innovation is a core value at our firm, so acceptance of change and openness to change is an important part of the fabric of firm. We’re not a corporate culture that is clinging to the good old days of law firms. This emphasis on fostering creative thinking not only serves our clients well, but it makes Seyfarth an exciting place to be a lawyer. We are expanding own sustainability efforts to look beyond traditional green campaigns. For example, we’re working on a program to help our employees be better consumers and providing education on how to read labels - things like what does organic or recyclable really mean - to help employees make informed choices in their own purchasing.

6. What is the coolest thing Seyfarth has done on sustainability? We are involved in the pilot with the Law Firm Sustainability Network (LFSN)’s new American Legal Industry Sustainability Standards (ALISS). This is the first time that there is a benchmarking tool that applies to our business where we can honestly assess our sustainability efforts and identify ways to improve. It also fosters healthy inter-firm competition, which is always a good way to motivate attorneys.

7. How does the Green Team work at Seyfarth? Each office deals with sustainability efforts differently. We believe that everyone’s community is different and what works in San Francisco may not work in Chicago, so we don’t mandate one course of action.  Instead we support each office in their initiatives, whether they are focused on campaigns to collect old cell phones, community service, disaster relief, or composting.  We also provide firm-wide “Green Your Routine” tips.

8. What is the best way to encourage law firms to commit time and resources to sustainability? Law firms are businesses. You must be able to articulate the value proposition both in terms of cost savings, but also in terms of the reputational benefit among the community in which the firm is operating. Lawyers build business based on being trusted legal advisors, as well as partners in helping our clients achieve their goals, so we have to understand how our clients operate and be in alignment. In the same way that clients regularly ask questions about diversity and other social issues, we are now seeing questions about sustainability. Sustainability is important to clients, so it should be important to firms.