Ethical Performance
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legal bodies 'need to bring lawyers more into CSR arena'

September 2005

Lawyers' associations have been urged to play a more active role in persuading corporate lawyers to become involved in socially responsible business practice.

A new study from the International Institute for Environment and Development concludes that some national legal associations have made efforts to engage their members on CSR, but 'there is still some way to go'.

The study, Corporate responsibility and the business of law, says the American Bar Association and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe are at the forefront of these efforts. However, it criticizes the CCBE's latest guide on the subject for European lawyers (EP5, issue 6, p12) for failing to strike a sufficiently 'positive' or 'progressive' stance on corporate lawyers' role, and says an ABA task force downplayed 'the potential role of lawyers in promoting the highest possible standards of CSR'.

The report says legal associations 'could play a significant role in building understanding on what is needed for business lawyers to maximize their contribution'. However, it regrets that at present they have an essentially mechanistic approach, concentrating on lawyers serving their corporate clients' immediate interests rather than taking a more holistic view of CSR 'beyond the pure context of legal rights'.

Halina Ward, the IIED's corporate responsibility director and author of the report, says greater direction is needed from professional associations because it appears lawyers will increasingly be forced to consider a wide range of factors, including reputation, when advising on tax avoidance, foreign investment contracts and other issues.

Peter McNamee, legal adviser at the CCBE, which represents 700,000 European lawyers, told EP: 'We're only really beginning to get into this area, and as things progress we'll develop our role to a greater extent. But even at this stage I think we have done pretty well in terms of producing our guide for lawyers, and we'll enhance our role in the near future by producing real-life case studies illustrating why the legal profession should be getting more involved in CSR.'

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