ESG has moved from corporate platitude to boardroom imperative in recent years. We have built one of the largest teams in the sphere as the legal industry scrambles to respond.
For long-time watchers of corporate morals, it is easy to forget how recently the vast field now dubbed Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) has moved from marginal marketing effort to core business strategy.
While the debate on moving beyond narrow definitions of shareholder capitalism and its ruthless profit-driven ethos was underway back in the 1980s, it is only in the last five years that such thinking has moved into the mainstream of plc agendas.
Our recent report on general counsel responses to ESG illustrates how issues like climate change, wellbeing and human rights are rising to the top of board agendas, driven by policymakers, changing consumer attitudes and mounting investor pressure.
We have been at the forefront of building an ESG practice, with more than 300 lawyers globally in our cross-practice group, with our team earning top-tier rankings in the major legal directories. Given the roll call of bluechip firms making net-zero commitments over the last two years, few doubt that tackling ESG – and climate change in particular – constitutes the defining business transformation challenge of the age.
Yet legal advisers face a challenge in responding to client demand given the sheer span of ESG and the reality that issues thrown up encompass a huge field of legal and industry disciplines, including corporate, finance, litigation, employment, regulatory and anti-corruption.
Stitching together an effective team involves pulling together disparate specialisms, as reflected in the leadership we deploy. Our four-strong ESG leadership is made up of practice chair Silke Goldberg, a veteran energy lawyer; Rebecca Perlman, a London corporate lawyer who helped to launch the firm’s impact investment practice; Hong Kong-based business and human rights specialist Antony Crockett; and Tim Stutt, a Sydney corporate governance expert.
Our practice, likewise, spans a group of disciplines including:
- Climate change
- Responsible investment and sustainable finance
- Corporate governance
- Business and human rights
- Litigation and activism
Rebecca unsurprisingly expects ESG will come of age during the 2020s as business and politicians scramble to address environmental concerns. “The climate piece is fundamental but it is not the only piece – we’ve really seen that during Covid with the increased focus on social factors, human rights and worker wellbeing.”