Focus on…..DLA Piper

Micael Johnstone reflects on sustainability and the 10th Anniversary of the LSA and what it means for DLA Piper

We are delighted to start our new Focus on a Firm feature with DLA Piper and an interview with Micael Johnstone, International Sustainability and Climate Change Lead at the firm.  Before joining DLA Piper, Micael was the LSA Manager and known to many LSA members. He is about to take on a new role at EY so we thought now would be a good time to get his perspective on DLA Piper, a founding firm of the LSA and an active member for the last 10 years.


What are the greatest changes you have seen over the last 10 years?

“I guess the greatest change is that the issue has evolved from being something – 10 years ago –  DLA Piper felt it ‘should’ be doing to being something the firm now just does as a matter of course – sustainability is now part of running a modern responsible business. This is evidenced by our commitment to ensuring we have the infrastructure in place, such as ISO14001, signing up to UN SDGs and the focus on Science Based Targets which the firm is now actively developing.
It’s no longer an ‘of the moment thing’, but now just a fundamental part of how we operate as a business globally. This shift is in part in response to the macro trends around the globe – helped enormously by the credibility of the Paris Accord – but also in part is a reflection of where our clients are. As with most professional firms, our clients now include the big tech firms and these firms really get sustainability – it matters to them and their staff.
There is a shift internally as well, as younger staff members, from trainees up to associates, have an expectation that DLA Piper will be taking these issues seriously – we just can’t not do it!”

What has been the greatest challenge DLA Piper has faced over the last decade?

“While many LSA members are international, few are global in the sense DLA is – we are the largest law firm and we have a global footprint – more offices in more countries. One of the greatest challenges is collecting reliable consistent data from across the business, so that we meet our ISO14001 and carbon reporting requirements . Data around energy use and emissions vary so much from country to country and, oddly enough, the US presents one of the major challenges where we have landlord / tenant relationships – energy use just isn’t captured in the same way.
For the wider sector there is a real challenge caused by the business model that law firms operate where the focus is on client fees. This causes an inherent tension between billable hours and the pressure on individuals to deliver fees, against the pull that implementing sustainability and carbon reduction measures often require time from individuals that is not billable. As a wider profession we need to think more strategically about the clients of the future; we are already required to evidence a real commitment to carbon reduction and real environmental sustainability.  That demand is only going to increase as time goes on. What is needed is more strategic thinking about these issues in the round – so only focusing on billable time is just not the answer.”

What do you feel your biggest success has been ?

“Keeping the issue relevant to the firm and keeping at it so we ensure that DLA is one of the leaders of the pack around sustainability and good practice in the legal sector. It’s not really sexy but just keeping at it and keeping the momentum is a real achievement for us. I think we can say that, year on year, the fact that it still matters, that people have environment as part of their day job, is a real success”

What is there still to do for DLA or the rest of the sector?

“Speaking entirely personally, not on behalf of DLA, I would say at some point the firm, and the sector, really need to scrutinise whether the clients we act for are committed to a sustainable future. This is an issue for us all on the planet and, if the clients we work for are not taking it seriously, what can we as law firms and advisers do to change that? There is real traction among some sectors of the economy and that’s reflected in a lot of what we do at DLA – our work on low carbon cities, the renewable energy practice, the sustainable real estate practice – but the elephant in the room is where environment is just not an issue for clients and isn’t being discussed. But, as I said, that is my personal view!”

What practical advice would you give those starting out ?

“It’s vital to have a senior person on board – you really need leadership, and committed leadership, at the top to make this work. Find out what the levers are for each individual – cost saving, interest in biodiversity…. whatever it takes – and use those to get people on board and signed up.”

What is the benefit of LSA membership to DLA and others?

“Safety in numbers! Seriously though, it’s important to be in the pack and the sheer fact that other firms are doing it means its important to be ‘in the club’ – people would notice otherwise and the LSA helps to support and reinforce that notion of being part of a club you can’t afford not to join.”