MINTER ELLISON was the only law firm to take part in the recently published Corporate Responsibility Index, a self-assessment tool to assess a company or firm’s corporate social responsibility approach, management and performance.
Pressed as to why Minters was the only firm that took part in the survey, Minter Ellison’s National Director of Pro Bono and Community Investment Program, Anton Hermann, said he has been told that other firms have looked at it, but haven’t committed. “It’s one thing to say we’d like to be more accountable,” he said, “but another to actually take the plunge”.
Minter Ellison, which sits alongside companies including BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto in the Index, receives an overall score of 74.99 per cent and less. It received a silver star, that is between 80 and 89.99 per cent, for Corporate Strategy and Management Practice. And, for Performance and Impact, Assurance and Disclosure and Integration, it received the lowest grade of 74.99 per cent or less.
The results, according to Hermann, reveal that the firm has some room for improvement, but also shows its own commitment to the field. “You’re never happy if some of your results are below average of a group, but we have some areas of strength and some areas we need to improve,” he said.
Driving the firm to take part in the Index was a decision made in 2003 to become more involved in the field of corporate social responsibility. The firm has since then aimed to formalise its community investment program and play a leadership role in the field. “So when the [Corporate Responsibility Index] opportunity came up, we saw it as a way to test ourselves as well as going beyond our comfort zone to be benchmarked against others,” said Hermann.
“We’d like to think that over time our result will improve and that we’ll get a better idea about key issues and how we can reach higher levels,” he said.
The St James Ethics Centre, which collated results and provided feedback, said the value of the Index lies in the way it can assist a company to identify areas for improvement and therefore become a more sustainable and successful enterprise.
“Corporate responsibility is much more than doing ad hoc good works in the community — it’s primarily about how you manage your business and communicate reliable information about your company, making sure that what you say you are doing is what you are actually doing and not just PR sign,” said St James Ethic Centre Simon Longstaff.
One success for Minters, said Hermann, was in the area Management Practice, attributed to the amount of work the firm is doing in this area. Claiming there are some strong structures in management, Hermann said the firm had worked since 2003 on ways to capture the community spirit in the firm, “and not just rest on our laurels but get out there and play a leadership role”.
Regarding the firm’s environmental management, it comes down to its “environmental footprint”, which is not significant, Hermann said. The way the firm captures information about its environmental performance is important, as well as being aware of reducing paper usage and being more energy conscious. “We have taken some good steps but we are not capturing some of the results yet.”
Attempting to explain the apparently lower standards achieved by the firm, Hermann said that there is a difference between a law firm structure such as that of Minters, as opposed to a publicly listed company. A publicly listed company has greater requirements in terms of transparency and public reporting, “while some of our performance in this field is more optional and discretionary”.