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Legal Technology

Sustainable Legal Technology: Why It’s Important for Lawyers — and a Guide to Purchasing

By Smriti Sinha

In addition to the right cost and features, lawyers and firms exploring new technology are increasingly adding sustainability to their list of considerations. Why? As environmental regulations and reporting obligations become stricter, law firms with a proactive approach to sustainable legal technology will be better positioned to adapt to new laws and standards. But that’s not all.

sustainable legal technology

It’s Not Just About Regulatory Compliance

By prioritizing sustainability, firms can enhance their brand and reputation by demonstrating corporate social responsibility, showcasing a commitment to caring about the planet and aligning with the values of eco-conscious clients.

More than half (52%) of corporate legal departments are requesting sustainability credentials from law firms as part of their environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies, and another 40% plan to make such a request in the next three years, according to a Wolters Kluwer report. As companies place more emphasis on ESG, a law firm following similar guidelines can show its values are aligned and meet the criteria to take on their legal work.

What should you look for when considering new software? Here are questions to ask potential suppliers — along with tips on how to spot “greenwashing” when researching sustainability claims.

Sustainable legal technology refers to solutions that are energy efficient, designed to reduce waste, and minimize their carbon footprint, for example, through reduced data use and loading time. Additionally, a firm’s software and document management practices can greatly influence the sustainability of its legal technology.

For example, say your litigation team’s documents are on local servers accessed by Windows Explorer. Then it’s likely your document management is inefficient from an energy use perspective. Your team must share those documents via email or save local versions to make annotations, generating an enormous amount of duplicates saved on different servers, all of which use energy. If your team has members working remotely in different locations, their documents may be saved on even more servers, increasing your carbon footprint.

However, litigation software that is sustainability-forward will work as a cloud-based document repository and a centralized place to create annotations and collaborative tasks. This software will require fewer servers to store data and reduce or eliminate the need for other data — and energy-using software, like email. 

When considering new technology, the first step toward a more sustainable approach is to inventory your current tech stack and identify opportunities to reduce the use of or consolidate software.

Before You Buy: Questions to Ask Technology Companies

In addition to asking questions about how the software works more efficiently and sustainably, lawyers should ask about technology suppliers’ internal ESG practices. Selecting a more sustainable software approach is good. But working with a partner who delivers this solution and practices what they preach is better.

Some starter questions may include these:

  • Do you measure energy consumption, waste and greenhouse gas emissions companywide so you can measure quantifiable reductions?
  • What data centers and servers does your software use and how are you measuring their energy efficiency?
  • Have you adopted sustainability policies and initiatives across your organization? Have you publicly communicated these commitments and how do you measure success?
  • Do you voluntarily participate in any sustainability assessments — such as EcoVadis or CDP — and share your results?
  • Do you participate in initiatives such as science-based targets (SBTis), which require software companies to implement simultaneous actions in areas including ongoing energy-efficient plans; renewable/low-carbon electricity supply; and encouraging carbon-consciousness among end-users?
  • Also ask about the vendor’s vendors: Does your vendor employ a sustainable procurement policy to help embed ESG best practices throughout its supply chain?

“Greenwashing” and Potential Red Flags

Greenwashing can be defined as using statements or claims to create a perception that the organization is committed to employing environmentally friendly practices when in reality those statements can’t be backed up in fact or with quantifiable measurements. Simply put, greenwashing is talking about the environment without doing anything to help it.

As you engage with potential vendors, pay close attention to whether they provide concrete data or quantifiable evidence to substantiate their assertions of energy savings or carbon footprint reductions. How are their teams equipped for sustainability practices? Are they prioritizing innovation to improve the environmental performance of products, services and operations? If you encounter vague assurances without any accompanying supporting data, it could be a red flag for greenwashing.

As legal technology continues to advance, environmental regulations get stricter, and client and investor environmental focus increases, lawyers and law firms will need to consider the environmental implications of their tech choices. Beyond mere efficiency, the sustainability of software has emerged as a significant factor in client decisions on selecting counsel. 

Sustainable legal technology encompasses not only energy-efficient software but also streamlined document management practices that minimize carbon footprints. Cloud-based repositories and collaborative tools reduce the need for excessive data servers and energy-intensive processes like email communication. In this context, adopting sustainable legal technology not only enhances operational efficiency but also demonstrates a commitment to environmental responsibility, which is increasingly valued by clients and stakeholders.

Overall, by integrating sustainability into their tech procurement processes, lawyers and their firms can contribute to a greener future while enhancing their competitive edge.

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Smriti Sinha

Smriti Sinha is General Counsel at Opus 2, a leading legal software and services provider. As part of the company’s executive leadership team, she leads global legal and compliance functions and the company’s ESG program. Before joining Opus 2 in 2022, Smriti spent over 10 years working with businesses globally across a broad range of industries, including technology, life sciences and marketing.

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