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Clients ‘craving solutions’ in fast-growing area of ESG

In a recent conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Hamilton Locke’s head of ESG, Michael Tooma, reflected on the rapidly evolving space of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) matters and how lawyers need to adapt to better service clientele.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 02 April 2024 Corporate Counsel
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The proliferation of ESG concerns, and their impact on Australian businesses, remain front of mind for law firms, particularly considering the breadth of impacts upon all areas of practical expertise – including sports. As recently reported by Lawyers Weekly, the advent of new artificial intelligence platforms may be able to help businesses meet ESG targets and an increased regulatory spotlight on greenwashing means that sustainability must be an urgent priority.

Such concerns are a top priority for in-house teams – as discussed by Unilever general counsel David Dwyer on a recent episode of The Corporate Counsel Show – and law departments need to evolve to meet current challenges and also have an essential role in helping businesses meet targets.

In the face of this wave of change, Tooma sees myriad opportunities for firms to better support clients.


Late last year, Tooma took a team of 11 (including another partner, two special counsel, and seven lawyers) from rival global firm Clyde & Co – where he had served as national managing partner – to Hamilton Locke.

Clients, he said, are “are struggling with the ESG reporting requirements” at present and as such are “craving solutions”.

Traditional approaches to legal and professional services have often been fragmented, leaving businesses to piece together advice on human rights, environmental, social, or governance issues from various sources, he explained.

Tooma’s vision is to provide a seamless, multidisciplinary service, offering end-to-end support for ESG compliance and reporting, which he noted will require a new level of collaboration with those in-house teams.

This is what future collaboration needs to look like, Tooma argued, as clients are struggling with matters around reporting and safety, so it is necessary to “deal with it holistically as an integrated issue”.

Such integration of advice for the three components of ESG is the challenge that practitioners and clients alike will have to grapple with, especially given how fast-growing this practice area is.

“Firstly, there is law reform that usually drives the growth with practice. There is a need in terms of a corporate need among the client base for those services to occur, and there is huge interest in the broader community in relation to compliance with those issues. So, you’ve seen a great deal of class of shareholder activism in the form of class actions. For example, you’re seeing the regulators really clamping down on making greenwashing a particular priority,” Tooma said.

And it’s not just greenwashing that will be a focus, Tooma added. He pointed to ‘bluewashing’ – deceptive marketing around social practices – as being one that will be under the microscope.

“Every colour of washing will be focused upon by each of the regulators,” he opined.

“That’s going to drive a lot of legal work, both advisory and litigation, making this really hot in terms of legal practice, but also more broadly, professional services, in my view.”

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