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CSR IS BOTH GOOD AND PROFITABLE

DESMOND HUDSON<br /><strong>CHIEF EXECUTIVE, THE LAW SOCIETY</strong><br /><br />LAST week, City law firm Simmons &amp; Simmons announced that it is putting corporate responsibility at the heart of its new business strategy. CSR-type work will appear on timesheets, and be considered in appraisals. This has ignited the debate about the &ldquo;real&rdquo; motivations behind corporate community investment.<br /><br />The rather hackneyed contention is that &ldquo;CR is PR&rdquo;. But this perception is based on the premise that wanting to be seen to do good is incompatible with actually doing good. Not only is this logically flawed, it also belies an outmoded and puritanical world view. <br /><br />There are a number of ways in which City law firms can realise CR values and mobilise valuable professional expertise for the public good. For example, giving free legal advice to microfinance projects to help alleviate poverty in the developing world, or supporting the development of low carbon social enterprises. <br /><br />Allen &amp; Overy and Travers Smith&rsquo;s efforts in these areas were celebrated at the Law Society Excellence Awards last week, which does not in any way diminish their external value, nor detract from the personal commitment of individual lawyers delivering them on top of challenging workloads.<br /><br />Law firms can undoubtedly derive business benefit from doing good works, giving them a valuable marketing edge with private and corporate clients placing who are placing increasing importance on working with suppliers who share their corporate ethics. But this is surely a happy fact which ultimately translates into sustainable programmes, making the debate about motivation for CR even more baffling. Taking the argument of the CR critics to the extreme might lead us to wonder whether any personal benefit derived from voluntary activity &ndash; whether it is undertaken to improve a CV, or from the pleasure of helping others &ndash; in some way undermines the value and impact of the act itself. <br /><br />Next week is National Pro Bono Week, which celebrates the fact that solicitors in private practice alone provide some &pound;400m worth of free legal advice each year. This proves beyond doubt that Simmons &amp; Simmons are by no means alone in their commitment to social responsibility.