The Law Office Take on Green Initiatives
Local law firms are moving toward sustainability and green practices, and it’s paying off.
Law firms have traditionally had a relatively noticeable carbon footprint when compared to other office environments, mostly because of the volume of paperwork generated in doing their jobs.
It could also be argued that the long hours these professionals log contribute to increased power consumption. With this in mind, some firms in the New Orleans market are finding ways to operate their firms more sustainably, by incorporating “green” initiatives into the office setting.
As law firms strive to ramp up sustainability practices, efforts include looking at methods of recycling, lowering energy consumption and increasing indoor air quality, the latter of which has been tied to reduced sick days and an increase in productivity.
DID YOU KNOW?
Harvard Study Finds Fresh Air Creates Smarter Workers
A 2015 double-blind study by the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University gathered 24 workers (including architects, designers, programmers, engineers, creative marketing professionals and managers). Half were exposed to elevated levels of volatile organic compounds and CO2 for six days. The other half worked in green conditions, some with enhanced ventilation.
Workers with enhanced ventilation scored significantly higher than those with poor air quality. Specifically:
288% higher in strategic thinking
299% higher in information usage
131% higher in crisis response
Change has been slow, but steady.
“Most New Orleans firms have implemented some environmentally-friendly practices, but those efforts may not extend far beyond matters of necessity in the legal profession of the modern era — such as e-discovery and e-filing,” said Kerry Murphy, a co-founder of Lasky Murphy law firm. “The deliberate adoption of a broader range of green practices hasn’t fully caught on locally in the legal community. Business in general, however, has largely adopted more environmentally friendly practices, so we all are naturally making changes as part of the fabric of modern communication.”
A small, woman-owned boutique law firm, Lasky Murphy opened its doors in March 2017. Murphy says the firm is looking at going paperless.
“Embracing technology in a way that fosters effective, efficient representation helps keep costs down for clients and is a piece of practicing sustainably,” she said.
Recent amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure make electronically stored information — such as e-mails, instant messages, voicemails, e-calendars, graphics and data on handheld devices — discoverable in litigation and allowable in court. Discovery of electronically stored information (ESI) is known as electronic discovery.
“We found it so much easier to reach our clients, and the public in general, when we went from print marketing to electronic.”
Heather Laborde, IT manager with Herman, Herman & Katz
These changes are helping to do away with paper trails.
“We found it so much easier to reach our clients, and the public in general, when we went from print marketing to electronic,” said Heather Laborde, IT manager with Herman, Herman & Katz. “The first thing we did was convert our newsletters to an electronic format. We found a much better reception to the electronic version. We also use blogs and social media: Facebook, etc., to communicate with the public.
Everything is so much faster and you can give everyone a real sense of who the firm is and what we can do for people.”
“Having a paperless office is sweeping the profession,” Laborde added. “The benefits can be found in the practice of law as well: organizing files, finding documents, preparing for trial — it’s all made easier and more efficient through going paperless.”
The whole idea of going green is not a new one; it’s been around for years. For many law firms, however, it’s a new way to cut costs, boost the bottom line, attract new clients and retain employees. But why are firms focusing on this issue now?
The answer is competition. Competition is stiff and law firms (like many businesses) are being forced to implement new strategies to stay alive in the marketplace. To succeed, firms have to become more creative and responsive.
“From our perspective as a small firm, sustainability efforts can’t hurt the marketing front,” Murphy said. “We do little things. We keep files electronically and scan all paper and recycle. When we print, we print double-sided. We have our A/C on an automatic timer so it doesn’t run unnecessarily and we turn off everything when we are not in the office. Also, we stopped purchasing disposable water bottles; instead we’re using filtered tap water, reusable water bottles and glasses. We use real plates and utensils in the office, not paper and plastic. To help with air quality, we open the window when the weather allows and have potted plants in the office.”
Simple cost-cutting tactics don’t have to break a firm and bring operations to a halt. Common sense ideas that make both economic and practical sense include carpooling, recycling, installing water filters and using reusable mugs instead of paper or Styrofoam.
These simple changes along with an energy efficiency plan can save firms thousands of dollars in the long run.
“With a smaller firm it’s easier to revamp and go paperless or green,” said Jessica Quin, a legal assistant with Herman, Herman & Katz. “Being a medium-sized firm we had to take it step by step, and we are still evolving and finding ways to be environmentally conscientious. Technology has definitely helped.”
“We started recycling years ago and we recycle ink cartridges as well as safely disposing of all electronic equipment out of service,” she added. “Upgrading equipment is also important. There comes a point when getting new equipment that operates more efficiently, requires less power and gives off less heat becomes the better environmental choice. We have also asked vendors to bill us electronically. We travel less and utilize video conferencing. Less travel, less supplies, more efficiency — we have seen the benefits and been able to pass those savings on to our clients.”
Best Practices for RESOURCE CONSERVATION and WASTE REDUCTION from the American Bar Association
- Recycle paper, toner, cans, glass, newspaper, batteries.
- Use recycled and recyclable copier and printer paper, toner, notepads and memo pads.
- Seek higher post-consumer content in recycled paper.
- Install recycled carpets and tile.
- Institute a “green” purchasing policy that incorporates waste reduction into purchasing decisions.
- Purchase refurbished or recycled furniture.
- Join buying clubs to save money on recycled products.
- Donate old binders, magazines and equipment rather than disposing of them.
- Recycle old electronic equipment. Some computer manufacturers, among others, will accept and recycle electronics, thus keeping them out of landfills.
- Use duplex or two-sided copying and printing.
- Use “print preview” before printing out documents to reduce multiple drafts.
- Use a spelling check function before printing out documents.
- Encourage responsible transit by taking advantage of tax-subsidized mass transit employee programs.
- Conserve water through low-flow toilets, aerators and water restrictors.
- Provide reusable food and beverage supplies, such as stir sticks and mugs.
- Increase alternatives to paper communication (electronic client and in-house newsletters and memos).
- Request soy-based inks in outside printing jobs.
- Provide recycle boxes in individual offices, conference rooms and common areas.
- Ask building management to have trash separated from recycled paper and newspapers.
- Set forth an appropriate conservation message or directive in your employee orientation manual.
- Reduce use of attachments and other documents as feasible.
- Consider video conferencing in place of out-of-town meetings.