Ensuring sustainability through the legal profession

MAY 31, 2019

by Xavier Costa, AIJA President 2018/2019

Sustainability can mean many things for different people. Very often sustainability is referred to under terms such as sustainable development, corporate social responsibility, resilience, sustainable consciousness, etc. What is sure – we all want it or, at least, we all need it.

My personal favourite definition comes from the 1987 UN Brundtland Commission* and says that sustainable development is ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Generally speaking, this implies that we should care for our planet, resources and people. Sustainability goes far beyond environmental
and corporate social responsibility concerns. In business, sustainability is about better decisions, cost reduction, improving productivity, innovation, reputation, and creating a long-term positive impact on all stakeholders. Such is the case for the legal profession, too. As more and more companies consider sustainability into their business strategies, lawyers must be prepared to properly advise them. To do that, being a simply knowledgeable lawyer is no longer enough. Lawyers should be able to offer advice on legal compliance, but also strategic guidance on opportunities that sustainability can provide for companies. Whether related to environmental practices, labour standards, cybersecurity, health and safety, immigration, human rights, tax or other areas of practice – undoubtedly, every lawyer will be asked more and more by their clients to help on sustainability-related issues.

As an international association, AIJA continuously seeks to share best practices through education and training events that enable collaboration, mentorship, peer-based learning and the sharing of innovative ideas for young lawyers across the world. These events follow thematic areas that are slightly changing from one event to the other. While 2018 was all about globalisation, the main focus of 2019 is on sustainability. One of our largest events, the International Young Lawyers’ Congress will showcase in particular the ways
in which lawyers around the globe can take actions to make the business of their clients more sustainable. From 3-7 September, more than 700 international professionals from private and in-house practices, as well as government, UN experts and members of the
G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance, will join us in Rome.

In 2019 as in all years, we will not rest. Our work is far from finished. Drawing on expertise available within its membership, AIJA – in cooperation with international bar associations and other business partners such as the International Bar Association, American Bar Association, Union Internationale des Avocats, Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, Inter-Pacific Bar Association, LAWASIA or the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance – will continue to strengthen the sustainability profile of the legal profession and ensure that the present and future generations of lawyers are well equipped for clients’ every need. As international young lawyers, we must feel empowered and play an important role in ensuring a sustainable future for our fellow citizens and clients. We owe it to people everywhere, to our planet and to the future generations.

The article was featured in the AIJA Yearbook 2018/2019.

*Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development