SLOWLY BUT surely, the Corporate Responsibility Index (CRI) is gaining a toe-hold in the legal industry. Pioneering legal participants Minter Ellison have this year been joined in the rankings by first-timers Henry Davis York.
Minter Ellison attained a gold ranking in the 5th annual CRI results, with the firm's overall index score jumping to 92 per cent (up from 84 per cent) last year. Henry Davis York received a silver ranking for its corporate strategy, which represents a score of more than 80 per cent.
Henry Davis York's Chief Information Officer, Kelvin O'Conner, said the firm had taken its lead from Minter Ellison in taking part in this year's index, but held modest expectations for its first year performance.
“Minters posed the question a couple of years ago that they didn't understand why other firms weren't participating in the CRI, and I agreed and said 'Let's get there',” O'Conner recalled.
“We did not expect to be at the top of the CRI table in our first year, and nor were we. However, the decision to make the results public was made to demonstrate the firm's commitment to improving our performance in corporate social responsibility and being accountable to the public and other stakeholders.”
Minter Ellison CEO Guy Templeton welcomed the entry of another law firm into the index, and offered some words of encouragement for HDY,
“We're very pleased to see another law firm come into the index. Our rankings in the early years were what I call the equivalent of 'Thank you for playing'. You look at those scores and think 'I'm sure we can do better than that.’ So we put in a lot of work and last year we got silver, and then this year we got gold,” Templeton said.
“The power of this index is in taking a really good grounding of where you are and then working at improvement. It's not about trying to get everything aligned in your organisation so you can suddenly leap to the top of the table. The value is in the process,” he said.
The apparent reluctance of other law firms to participate is unwarranted, according to current participants. Both men admitted that the index requites a significant time commitment, but neither viewed it as a particularly onerous task.
“It does involve an investment in effort but it's not a bureaucratic effort,” Templeton said. “It's an effort that is primarily around doing practical things to improve elements of our social responsibility. So we're very happy to invest the time,” he said.
“It is time consuming,” O'Conner said, “but everything is time consuming.”
Templeton described the survey as “a very good management tool” to guide the firm's existing CSR program. O'Conner agreed, calling the CRI a “framework that helps us to back up our existing culture and leadership strategy with some real systems and processes.”
Sharon Cook, HDY's managing partner, said that the CRI was an important gauge for transparency and accountability at the firm, and that she actively encouraged more law firms to participate.
“We don't see this as a competitive process and I think it's a great pity that only us and Minters are involved in this in terms of law firms. We'll be encouraging other law firms to get involved as well,” she said.
The CRI survey is conducted in Australia by St James Ethics Centre, with independent verification by Ernst & Young. The not-for-profit St James Ethics Centre prides itself on being a fully independent arbiter, scrutinising some of Australia's leading publicly listed and private companies. Sixteen of the total 40 companies participating were new entrants this year. According to St James, more flexible entry options introduced last year include a private benchmarking option, and have proved popular.
Dr Simon Longstaff, Executive Director of the St James Ethics Centre, noted in his foreword to the report: “This year's Index is evidence of a corporate sector that is beginning to lose its fear of candid and transparent reporting. This suggests a deeper commitment to learning than has been evident in the past”.