Bar News - May 17, 2017
New Lawyer Column: How to Make Your Legal Office More Environmentally Friendly
By: Katherine Hedges
Outside the courtroom, a person picturing lawyers may conjure an image of people digging through rooms full of boxes of documents that were photocopied and produced in discovery, which will eventually be shredded and thrown away.
This image can feel like a reality at times, whether you are practicing litigation or have a transactional practice that involves many, many drafts of negotiated language before the final version of a document is produced. The practice of law does often rely on a huge amount of paper consumption, and often requires large energy expenditures. This contributes to the perception that you cannot practice law without a having a serious environmental impact.
Some firms have been taking steps to change this perception. Currently, there is a big focus on “going paperless” in offices, which can provide a number of benefits including using less paper and reducing the storage space needed to maintain client files. There are many other steps attorneys can take to reduce their environmental impact, and some of these also reduce costs. The old saying “reduce, reuse, and recycle” also applies to a more environmentally sustainable law practice. Some steps to incorporate into your practice include:
- Reduce your energy consumption through an energy audit. The major energy companies in New Hampshire participate in a program called NHSaves. Through this program, your business can receive an energy audit, rebates and other incentives when your firm invests in more energy efficient equipment. One example of a change that can save a great deal of energy is installing (and using) programmable thermostats.
- Reduce your paper consumption. While many firms are working toward a “paperless” system, there are many easy steps you can take to reduce the amount of paper you are using. Try to do your initial proofread on the screen rather than on paper to reduce the number of times you print. Additionally, whenever possible, such as when printing draft documents, print double-sided.
- Reuse dishes and flatware. A firm can reduce its daily waste by providing reusable cups, plates, and silverware for their kitchens so that disposable items are used less. Firms providing bottle water should consider using water coolers and providing reusable glasses.
- Reuse office supplies. Another step that a firm can take to reduce costs while having a decreased environmental impact is to reuse folders, binders, and other more durable office supplies. When a case is concluded and folders, binders, etc. will no longer be used, most will still be in good enough shape to be used in your next case with new labels.
- Recycle. This may be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of reducing environmental impact, but many towns and businesses still do not recycle. When your town does not provide a program, recycling can be an expensive prospect. There are, however, many items you can recycle that will provide you a financial benefit. For example, firms generally go through a large number of ink cartridges, and many office supply stores will provide incentives for you to return your cartridges in the form of discounts on your next cartridge purchase. There are also many electronic sellers that will recycle your old electronics for free, and some will even provide you incentives to use toward your next purchase.
If you already are incorporating all of the above tips into your practice but are wondering what else you can do, consider the following advanced tips:
Start a composting program for your office - If you have gardeners in the office, they might appreciate being able to take home the used coffee grounds for their garden.
Install recycled carpet and tile – The next time you are renovating the office, consider using recycled or sustainable flooring. For instance, you can now purchase carpet made from corn.
Reduce your travel – While certain things have to be done in person, some meetings can be done through video conferencing, teleconferencing, or using other technology that will save fuel and other energy costs associated with traveling across the country for your case.
Add office plants – Plants can make your office feel more comfortable. They also will absorb airborne pollutants and emit healthy ions and oxygen into the air.
While taking the above steps can improve your environmental footprint, they might also improve how you present your firm to clients. Many consumers, including those consuming legal services, are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of the companies they hire and will appreciate the steps your firm has taken to reduce your carbon footprint.
Katherine E. Hedges is an associate at the law firm Hage Hodes in Manchester, New Hampshire. Her practice is focused on civil litigation, business and corporate law, and intellectual property. She is a member of the NH Bar Association New Lawyers Committee.