More diligence neededMay 2009
Corporate responsibility reports by law firms are still uncommon, so a debut from a UK-based legal company has caught the eye. Oliver Balch reviews its contents
Lawyer and US president Abraham Lincoln has two bits of advice for his legal peers: be diligent, and leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.
London-based law firm Wragge & Co seeks to be true to both tenets with the launch of its first corporate responsibility report. In 38 pages it sets out to diligently tell the ‘naked truth’.
As stories go, Wragge recounts its own tale comparatively well. There are the self-proclaimed high points: a new, free advice clinic in Birmingham; a map of its carbon footprints. There are the characters: CSR managers Lorna and Zoe, ‘One Big Team’, plus a troupe of smiling case studies. And finally there’s the plot: in summary, a well-structured community programme, some excellent human resources policies and the usual ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ green mantra.
Wragge also deserves points for trying when it comes to data. The numbers on diversity and community investment are particularly strong. And the inclusion of future targets is also welcome. Yet more hard figures are needed when it comes to the environment and suppliers.
Evidence that Wragge is new at the reporting game is obvious, however. The report has been presented as a ‘formal, externally assured summary’, yet apart from a London Benchmarking Group statement on its giving figures, no comprehensive assurance statement is to be found. A beginner’s slip perhaps, but it could easily undermine a reader’s confidence.
There’s another, broader point at stake here that relates to the company’s identity. Who or what, pray, is Wragge? The report leaves the reader none the wiser.
The fault lies partly in presentation. This is not an inexpensive document. The company appears to have contracted an (undisclosed) communications agency, and the results are visually impressive: hip design, modern fonts, catchy pull-out quotes, eye-catching photography. But it could be Innocent or Apple. That’s fine if you are out to corner a certain market. Yet it feels unnecessary for a corporate law firm.
A brief explanation of what Wragge actually does would certainly help clarify the identity problem. It requires a trip to the main part of the company’s website to learn that the firm is involved in an impressive range of commercial services, from advice on tax and pension law to antitrust and dispute resolution.
For all its professed openness (‘this is us, warts and all’), the failure to discuss its core business activities constitutes a glaring omission. What conflicts of interest arise when balancing private and public sector clients, for example? Does having clients in the defence and life sciences industries present ethical challenges? Perhaps not, but the reader really needs to be told that.
‘If you don't get a lawyer who knows law, then get the one who knows the judge,’ runs another legal quotation. Wragge no doubt knows about the law. But help from someone who is more up to speed with non-financial reporting would not go amiss.
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