04 May 2022

Join us as a leader in the ‘business as a force for good’ movement

Hanson Bridgett was the first law firm to earn certification as a B Corporation and hasn't looked back, writes Samir Abdelnour

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Hanson Bridgett LLP became the first law firm to earn certification as a B Corporation in 2007, and it has maintained that certification continuously for 15 years.

Today, there are almost 5,000 B Corp-certified companies around the world, fewer than 1% of which are law firms. Hanson Bridgett is the only AmLaw 200 firm to hold that designation.

So what does it mean for a law firm to achieve B Corp certification, and what has it meant for Hanson Bridgett specifically to maintain that standard for a decade and a half?

B Corp certification is a comprehensive process that measures a company's entire social and environmental impact, and signals to the world that a company is a global leader in the ‘business as a force for good’ movement.

B Corp status is often viewed as shorthand for a company that centres environmental stewardship and sustainability in its operations. But for companies that don't manufacture or distribute tangible goods, such as law firms, the environmental component may be the least determinative element in obtaining B Corp certification.

That's the case for Hanson Bridgett, a midsize firm with five offices across California, only one of which has more than 50 employees. While the firm scores points for reducing water use and waste, improving its energy efficiency, working with vendors on environmentally preferable options, and reducing its environmental footprint from travel and commuting, it has less of an ability to influence larger-scale environmental impacts, such as the use of renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Hanson Bridgett is proudly Californian — locally owned and staffed — and identifies itself as a law firm for all of California and beyond

What that means is the firm has to score even higher on the other elements of B Corp certification to achieve and maintain its designation. Those elements include governance, worker well-being and empowerment, community engagement, and client service and stewardship.

For example, Hanson Bridgett is recognised for considering all stakeholders in its decision-making processes, and providing transparency to its employees regarding its financial and social performance. In fact, the non-profit organisation that certifies B Corps recognises Hanson Bridgett as a company with an impact business model that is intentionally designed to create specific positive outcomes for its stakeholders.

Hanson Bridgett also stands out for its contributions to its employees' financial security, health and safety, wellness, career development, and engagement and satisfaction. During its 15 years of continuous B Corp certification, Hanson Bridgett has also made significant strides in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) among its workforce. 

Women now make up 40% of the firm's partnership, and the percentage of partners of colour has increased from less than 15% in 2007 to more than 20% now. The firm is also Mansfield Plus-certified, meaning that it affirmatively considers at least 30% women, attorneys of colour, LGBTQ+ attorneys, and attorneys with disabilities for leadership roles, equity partner promotions, client pitch opportunities, and senior lateral positions.

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The firm's track record on DEI has resulted in numerous awards and recognitions as a top law firm for diversity and for women, including being named one of the Best Law Firms for Women 12 years in a row by Seramount (fka Working Mother Media), and ranking 37 out of 225 on The American Lawyer's 2021 Diversity Scorecard.

Community impact is also an important part of company's B Corp journey, and Hanson Bridgett's B Corp certification reflects the firm's long-standing commitment to community service and improvement, from its nationally recognised pro bono work to its charitable giving programme. Hanson Bridgett is proudly Californian — locally owned and staffed — and identifies itself as a law firm for all of California and beyond.

The firm's 60-year history is deeply intertwined with its home state, and its client roster includes some of California's most iconic institutions. And one of the firm's partners chaired a legal working group that drafted and advocated for state legislation adopted in 2012 that now recognises benefit corporations – modelled on the B Corp standards – as a corporate form in California. 

But Hanson Bridgett's dedication to making a positive impact extends well beyond state lines, and this year the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association honoured the firm as a 2022 Beacon of Justice — one of only 18 firms nationwide to receive the award.

As the firm's Director of Pro Bono and Social Impact, I get asked frequently how B Corp certification has changed Hanson Bridgett for the better. The answer is that Hanson Bridgett does not operate the way we do so that we can get or keep our B Corp status; but we are proud to earn the recognition that B Corp status confers on our business model, and our continual striving to improve ourselves and our communities.

And while it's nice to be in such selective company among law firm B Corps, our hope is that other law firms will join Hanson Bridgett in this movement and model their business in accordance with these critical principles.

 Samir Abdelnour is a partner and director of pro bono and social impact at Hanson Bridgett
 

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