A global survey of general counsel has found that nearly all expect their workloads to increase, as they attempt to deal with a range of risks linked to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
According to a study from EY Law and the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession, however, 96% say that their legal departments need more expertise to manage sustainability issues.
In addition, 94% of general counsel state that they do not have the funds they need to manage their organisation’s response in this area.
The findings show that only 15% of respondents believe that their business leaders appreciate the risks to their organisations from environmental issues, such as climate change and carbon emissions.
In addition, only 22% of those working in law departments believe that the environmental goals of the organisations that they work for are well-defined.
Just under 40% think that leaders appreciate the risks linked to social issues – including diversity, wellbeing and employee safety.
More than 90% of law departments say that they face challenges creating policies to tackle social issues, where there are no specific regulations; 90% make the same point in relation to environmental issues.
The lawyers surveyed see the potential loss of customers, or damage to the brand, as the biggest risks to their organisations arising from poor environmental or labour practices.
At 77%, this ranks well ahead of concerns about investment, or compliance with new regulations.
According to the survey, however, respondents spend more time on compliance and litigation issues, as 77% say they feel more pressure from investors and regulators than from any other parties.
Alan Murphy (head of law, EY Law Ireland, pictured) said that organisations around the world were facing mounting pressure from changing consumer attitudes, more aggressive regulatory authorities, shifting investor priorities and "emboldened" employees.
He added that that many law departments were “at the vanguard” of businesses’ efforts to become more sustainable.
“They are facing undeniable challenges, not the least is the of lack of skilled resources needed,” he stated.