Practice Well(Being)

Sustainability Through Purpose - with Adrian Peyer

August 10, 2022 Nita Cumello & Rebecca Morrison Season 1 Episode 8
Practice Well(Being)
Sustainability Through Purpose - with Adrian Peyer
Show Notes Transcript

“If you have a defined purpose, I think that you can also call it the true north or whatever you would. You would say if you have that, I think you can take decisions and link it back to, to this.”

 On this episode of Practice Well(Being) we explored critical topics around sustainability and purpose with the co-founder and CEO of impactvise AG, Adrian Peyer. impactvise is driven by the belief that law firms and in-house corporate counsels are key players in the modern value chain, with a unique position to support the move towards a sustainable future. Adrian co-founded impactvise after 20 years as in-house counsel, General Counsel and Company Secretary.

 In this episode you will hear how:

-        ESG moved from back office to boardroom and from a corporate proposition to a law firm proposition.

-        To identify, articulate and differentiate purpose so that it can be used a tool for decision making, employee retention and client attraction.

-        Purpose is fundamental to sustainability.

 You will also learn a little bit more about the ways that impactvise is helping law firms identify and leverage their purpose with an eye towards ESG progress.

 If you want to learn more you can find Adrian on LinkedIn or at  impactvise You can connect with Nita on LinkedIn. You can connect with Becky on LinkedIn, Instagram or at her website –  

In this week's episode of practice wellbeing, Becky and I speak with Adrian Peyer co-founder and CEO of impactvise. This company was born in the midst of a pandemic. When we became more woke to the notion that we all play a role in the move toward a sustainable future. Impact values is driven by the belief that law firms and in-house corporate councils are key players in the modern value chain.


The power that legal teams have to shape the actions, decisions, and strategies for the future cannot and should not be ignored or minimized impact vice beliefs. That business decisions are influenced by transparent ESG data and works with law firms, lawyers, and legal teams to progress in the ways that benefit people, planet and profit.


in this conversation, you'll hear how ESG has transitioned from back office to boardroom from a corporate proposition to a law firm proposition. We talk about purpose, how to identify it, how to articulate it, how to differentiate it. And most importantly, why it's fundamental to sustainability. We talk about performance and we talk about progress.


Thanks for listening in. Let's get to.


Adrian. We're really excited to be here with you today and learn a little bit more about both your story and the work that you're doing, you know, at impactvise around ESG and in law firms. And so we thought we'd start with just asking you to share a little bit about your journey, how you got to this place, how impact wise came to be.


Um, and just whatever else you'd like to share about your story. Well, thank you very much. Uh, both Becky and Nita for having me. And I think if I may spend just a, a little bit, since you call it a journey, um, I think I would, you know, say there were probably two developments in 2019 that, you know, kind of started off impact wise.


I think the first one was really co um, working from home. And I was, uh, working at a very large, uh, multinational insurance company in the legal department at that time. And we had so many legal questions to answer within the business. And I was sitting at home, uh, doing all this work with my colleagues and I thought, so what is happening with the small and medium enterprise?


How are they dealing with all these legal questions? And even here in Switzerland where we, uh, we are based, there were so many new regulation every day coming out saying, you can do this, you have to do this. How do you deal with these questions? If you don't have a lawyer in house lawyer, or you can afford an external counsel.


So I, you know, had this idea of setting up, um, a webpage called legal solidarity. I got about, uh, 18 to 20 Swiss law firms to provide free legal advice to people in need based on COVID. I also then reached out to some of the large law firms globally and set up the legal solidarity, uh, on a global basis with three to five global law firms.


So for me personally, that was. To see, okay. Lawyers are key in crisis situation. And secondly, for me personally, I saw I can implement an idea into a project that actually works. So that was a bit, uh, the one thing that happened. The other thing, uh, as I was company, secretary of, uh, this, uh, multinational, um, insurance company I saw over the years that ESG became.


Strategic topic. So it moved from kind of the back, uh, office where someone was hired as a chief sustainability office into the boardroom and the CEO. So the discussion really was, you know, how do you incorporate sustainability into your company strategy? As a lawyer and responsible at the time, also for selecting law firms, I thought, so what can I contribute to this company strategy?


How can I support the company's sustainability strategy? And one action that I think a agenda council can take is with whom do you work together? Which law firm do you work? Are they aligned with the values and the strategy of your own company? And so when I, um, re kind of constituted the global panel of law firms, uh, for the insurance company, I not only asked the law firms about, you know, the skills, I think that is easily something you can, uh, figure out and you have experience, then you have tools to negotiate the fees.


But I also ask about their ESG performance. So not how they give advice, but what are they doing? How are they, you know, contributing to this journey? And I must say I was a bit, um, let's say disappointed or surprised that the answers I got, you know, there were from a to set, you couldn't compare what are the law firms doing?


Who's more advanced than, than someone else. So it was hard to digest the answers we got. And that was then the time when I thought. So. If I had a tool, a solution that helps me as an in-house general council to compare law firms, what they do on ESG, that would be actually quite nice. And that was the starting point of impact wise, uh, when I thought, okay, that would be an, a nice idea to establish, um, a platform or a tool that you can compare law firms based on their ESG perform.


At that then when, uh, after giving it some thought and, um, also consulting with my co-founder now, um, that I said, okay, I'm leaving my comfort zone. After 19 years of having been employed by a large, uh, corporate and start our own company. And that's the about a year ago that we incorporated impact wise, uh, as a startup here in Switzerland.


That's awesome. And you've already started to touch on it, but I think there's this important link that I remember from our, our pre-call conversations between sort of you call it strategy, but we could go even bigger than that, like purpose and this work in ESG. Um, can you share a little bit about your perspective on ESG and law firms specifically?


Not in the way that they're sort of applying it or advising clients, but how it ties maybe to their overall purpose and firm proposition. I think, I mean, if, if you look at, uh, you know, the law firms probably today, many, you know, you see all the practice group on ESG popping up in each of the, the law firms.


So I think that's, you know, kind of the, the advice piece, but what you're referring to in that as we had previous a bit is more. You know, how is the law firm, uh, implementing their own ESG, uh, journey, so to say, or what are they doing? So these are multi, I mean, huge businesses, global operational, and they're part of the value chain.


So I think one thing is that we said, look, a law firm not only needs to provide advice, but also. Walk their ESG talk. So this is a topic now that they can just say, look, we only give advice, but Darren have their own business, their own corporate structures, and they need to reflect similar values. And I think, you know, you've, we've seen now, uh, and having assessed many of the law firms.


Now we see many do. You know, maybe some things on, on the social aspect, on some of the governance aspect and certainly some of the environmental piece, which is probably the focus nowadays. But I think what is lacking in most is. Kind of this, the foundation to it. And that's why I think if you define a purpose, that's the foundation of your corporation, whatever the structure is.


But I think that's the, the piece that many law firms miss is, you know, start off with defining what are you standing for? What, what is it that, you know, makes you be a law firm and that's. Giving advice. It's, it's the, why are, are you here? What is, what is the thing you want to achieve? And I think if you define this, then you are clear towards your clients.


But also towards your employees. Yeah. And employees then can make a choice, whether that's, you know, whether they can identify themselves with that purpose or whether they want to go to another law firm. I think that's the, you know, what I would start with is really, you know, before you do all the. Or at least in parallel, you can certainly do initiatives, which are important to get going, but you should also in the partnership and with your, um, associates and employees, this discuss.


So what's the purpose of this. Firm. Yeah. And I heard you say, without saying that the purpose can't be simply do great legal work mm-hmm  right. The purpose has to be bigger than that to be foundational. And I think that that's also something just to add to it. It's so interesting cuz you know, all of us have been working with these large firms for, or firms generally for such a long time.


And it seems like there's this consistent, this consistency amongst them around, oh, we provide our purpose here to provide the best client value or you know, something along those lines. There's nothing that sort of differentiates one firm from another when that's sort of the. Result of having a purpose, not the purpose in and of itself.


So I guess my question for you, Adrian, is when you're working with firms on this foundational aspect of. Let's come up with, what is this purpose? Why are we here? It's a challenging exercise that requires like a lot of, almost like soul searching on the firm level to figure that out. How do you go about that?


I mean, how do we figure that out? Or do you have any examples, even if it's not in a law firm, but with other organizations that you've worked with who have done this really well, and what has resonated with you? So I think the, how you get to this, I mean, there are probably two aspects. One something we usually do is we just talk to people.


And ask them. So, you know, people have been, I mean, if you talk to partners, they've been there 20 years. If you talk to young associates, you ask them, so why did you join? What, what do you think is the purpose of this? And because they hear usually there is a bit of a culture in the firm, but it's not, let's say written down or clearly articulated.


And if you get 10 people, um, You know, and ask that question and somehow they usually go into a similar direction, but they, you know, just describe it differently. And then we play this back. And I think if you have 10 statements that go into a similar direction, you can come up with a wording that actually says, okay, that's somehow what everyone wanted to say.


So let's agree on, you know, maybe putting. Uh, you know, something on paper that, you know, as an example, uh, you know, some say purpose of this law firm is to create a better present to have a future. Or another one says, you know, our purpose is to make business work better for people. So this is, there's nothing in there about legal advice, but of course that's the basic that you can make the business work better, but it's for the people it's not, you know, for just making more profit or something.


I think that's the, the clue at the end to, you know, come up with something that resonates with people and that everyone can keep it short so that it gets to almost a mantra at the end of the day, that so that people understand why. You are actually here and making it short and kind of consumable in a way that individuals can kind of align their own individual purpose to that message and almost make it their own.


But within the context of what that general purpose is, I think, as you just said, keep it short. And I think that's the challenge for lawyers.  I mean, well, it's honestly, that's hard. No, no, it is hard because you wanna caveat on everything. Exactly. Explain it and explain it. And exactly. I really put in another, uh, kind of AdWord or adjective, but keep it simple or in a one that I like, uh, as well as empowering tomorrow.


So, I mean, that's, you know, it's, it's not specifically for a law firm, but still, if you think about it as a law firm, you can empower tomorrow. You can empower people, you can empower your clients. So there is something in it for everyone, but it's, it's, it makes you unique. And I think that's, you know what you said, also, Becky, you know, that's the differentiator at the end of the day, whether, you know, giving.


Excellent client service. I think you would expect that from every law firm, if, if someone were to say, we're not giving the great, you know, the best legal advice, mm-hmm, , I mean, that's a choice you can make as well. But, uh, you know, I think that that is not gonna make you different. And I think that's the, you know, in discussion with law firms, I think there is much around and people.


Almost feel it or, you know, and sense it and can somehow articulate it. And then I think the interesting piece is to put it almost that in a recipe so that the, you know, at the end you have a, a nice cake that everyone likes mm-hmm  and. That's a tough one. And I think it's in particularly tough within law firms, because I mean, they're partner led, which may be a bit of a difference to a corporation, but still, I mean, you have a, a board, you have a management and you have people.


And for law firms, of course you have a partnership that almost everyone has a say, but at the end of the day, you need to come up to, you know, to a consensus. And if, if every partner were to say, well, I'm not gonna agree with this. And here and there, I mean, that's like in a, in a big corporation, either you, you know, say, look, this is the decision, let's support it.


Um, but I, I, I can certainly understand that, you know, discussions within partnerships are, may be, might be a bit more difficult. To do what I think lawyers are usually used to difficult conversations that's right. Especially difficult, um, conversations around wordsmithing. Right.  so, yeah. Yeah. I think that even there, sometimes you just need to, you know, Let it almost digest a bit.


So if you come up with a, a tagline or your purpose in that sense, you know, just let it be there for a week or two and, and, you know, ask people whether it resonates. And then you can maybe still tweak it a bit, but at the end of the day, you know, it's, it's not about, uh, wordsmithing everything like a lawyer does.


Yes. What I also really liked about, like, when we had a, the conversation in advance of this discussion, you kind of talked about the importance. Purpose as, as, and, and defining that as an element of the firm's sustainability, right? So as they're making decisions about anything that happens, right? Whether it's a chaotic event or something that they can say that whatever decision we make is aligned with our values and our purpose.


And if that goes undefined, then it's, it provides for that sort of ability for people to switch easily. In what they stand for. But if you, if you kind of know exactly what your purpose is and what you stand for as an organization, and you align to that, and every decision that you make is in alignment with that, whether it's for your people, for your clients, for the world around you, it becomes then a much more sort of sustainable part of who you are.


Exactly. And I think as you, as you just, you know, If you have a defined purpose, I think that you can also call it the true north or whatever you would. You would say if you have that, I think you can take decisions and link it back to, to this. And just as an example, so if we just take, you know, create a better present to have a future as a, you know, if that's your purpose and then you go back to, you know, the decision around, um, you know, law firms had to take, uh, when, when Russia invaded the Ukraine, You can have a discussion, you know, are we gonna lose money or you go back to your purpose and say, okay, so create a better presence to have a future.


So to have a future, I think, I mean, the decision to, you know, to withdraw, I would say is probably an easy one, because then you have a future. If you are discussing, are we gonna lose, you know, five clients and, um, 2 million of revenue. I mean, that's, that's not, I mean, that's a decision you can, or a discussion you can have, but that's not gonna, you know, no one is gonna understand if you say, oh, we can't afford to lose 2 million revenue, but you know, if you say to your people, look, we, we looked at our purpose that look, we were clear.


We want to create a better presence for a future. So, you know, it's no question that we withdraw. And with all the losing money, that's not. That's not the decisive factor here. And I think that's the key then in, you know, communicating also with your employee and clients and say, look, it's clear for us.


Here we go. Yeah. And unless you've operated in an organization or in your life in a way where you've had that kind of north star before, I don't think you appreciate the power that having that anchor point creates. Right. And many people have been lifetime law firm or life, career time law firm employees have not had the experience of having that sort of very simple anchor point to say, okay, well, how do we make this staffing decision or this budget decision or this, you know, uh, decision about something geopolitical in the world.


Well, when you have an anchor point to your point, it gets so much easier. There is many times no conversation to be had because of what you. You know, where you are going, what your north star is, what you are tied to. And so it's interesting, you know, as you were talking to think about, you know, not having experienced it, you don't see the efficiency and the, the power that it brings.


That actually brings me to a question that I had. Um, and you set that up perfectly. Becky, the question that I had is I would go so far as to say it's probably always been important to have this and yet. We've maybe come to the epiphany now about it being so important. Why now? Like, why is it now that we've just discovered this and it didn't happen sooner?


I mean, if you, I mean, if you refer it to law firms, you know, I think. I wouldn't, let's say blame them for not having defined this earlier. So what I, you know, would rather see is, you know, a bit of what I alluded to at the beginning, I think the, you know, the clients of law firms, so the multinational companies.


They started to, you know, deal with sustainability and with, you know, questions around purpose much earlier. And they had to do that, be it from regulation, but also as a, you know, a huge corporations, they are more advanced in these discussions. And I think, you know, now did multinational turn to their supply chain.


Or you can call it value chain. So to their yeah. And, and law firms, whether they like it or not are part of this value chain. And there are no exception to any provider, to a large company. And the large companies are now turning and say, look, it's one thing internally that we tell our employees, look, that's how we behave.


But to have an impact, you need to look at, you know, who do you work with? You get to the lawyers at one point in time and to the law firms. And I think that's, you know, a pressure point to the law firms and on the other. I'm sure that law firms have identified this. And in particular, the large ones that this is a, a topic their employees are also caring about.


And so it's, it's a bit the push and I think law firms itself, they understand they need to move and that this is a different topic than, you know, and isolated, uh, kind of initiative. This is fundamental to their. If they're not moving and, you know, providing. Kind of a work environment that keeps people at their law firm.


They will not have a future. And I think that's the, you know, the piece they understand it's the clients and it's their employees. And if, if you're, I mean, that's a choice you can make and say, look, we, we're not interested. We keep doing what we've done, but I'm sure that many now see. It's also an opportunity.


It's really an opportunity for law firms to attract and retain their talents and to also get new clients on board. So I think it's not just a, you know, an exercise that you do and it's a cost book. It's something that creates an opportunity on the employee and on the client side. And I'll piggyback off of something that you said right at the very beginning, when you sort of talked about two developments, I would go so far as to say, it's not even just about the attraction and the retention of the talent, but you note it so eloquently at the beginning, how lawyers are really key and necessary in crisis situations.


And so having them in a mindset or a mind frame of being able to kind of perform at their best. Not just about attraction and retention, but actual performance of their best in these type of situations when they are needed, the most is so important. And it brings me to another question around how do you connect that up?


That idea of performance and the attorney wellbeing and their ability to optimize themselves. To the organization's ESG proposition. And how do you talk to firms about that? So, I mean, I, I think if you look at, you know, performance and I call it now, you know, one is performance and the other, you can call progress.


And I think progress, I mean, performance, we know, well that's financial performance or, you know, how many hours you bill and so on and for progress, I would argue it's almost threefold. And that ties into, into the ESG. I think progress if you look, you know, globally in, in the economy. So what we need to make sure is that, I mean, the nature survives.


That it's fair so that, you know, this imbalances, uh, you know, from what do you call that the wealthy and, and the less, uh, so it, the balancing and the fairness, and the third point is really what you said, it's the wellbeing. So that makes up what I would argue progress. So if you have these three outcomes, so to say from, from what you do, if it's fair, if you, you know, kind of.


Not hurt, uh, you know, the nature and you provide a environment where people can be at their best kind of this wellbeing. I think that's where we, we need to go. And that's why law firms also need to provide, you know, kind of this. Structure or the governments and all the, the policies and so on around these topics so that a lawyer can perform at his or her best.


I think, you know, it's not the output, that's the kind of the hours, but the outcome so that people are satisfied with what they do and how they perform that. And they are able to perform that over. A certain period of time. So it's sustainable for themselves. I think the worst that you see at law firms is, you know, that people are not able to perform well over a longer period because they're just kind of burned out or, you know, don't feel well and then move on to an next firm.


I think that's the thing we need to come back to is provide an infrastructure, a governance as almost. I wouldn't call it a safety net, but somehow that people can perform at their best, and this is not, you know, being lazy or, you know, that you cannot be tough with people, but you need to provide the, the governance around this.


So I have another question. Um, I know that and kind of to respond to that, I guess, impact bias is. Trying to help law firms to with, with how they're defining standards around this and what that, how they're reporting on this. Right. And how they can be more transparent. Can you talk a little bit about how you're doing that with them?


What we didn't wanna do. Let's put it that way is to come up with a new standard on how to measure ESG for law firms. So we looked at the, the existing frameworks and we said, look, the world economic forum issued some, uh, stakeholder metrics, which. You know, they argue should apply to any business across the globe.


So we took that and looked, uh, and said, so which of these metrics are really relevant to the legal industry. And we look at the publicly available data around law firms to say, so are they. You know, kind of reporting on these topics so we can, you know, benchmark them against each other, what they do. And that's how then also you can help law firms to say, look here compared to your.


Either competitor or geographically here, you're a bit behind in these topics on, let's say diversity and inclusion. You're well advanced, but, uh, maybe you wanna commit to net zero. That's kind of the standard nowadays. So we can, we can baseline their kind of ESG performance and help them to say, look, what are the next kind of steps they want to take to improve their ESG performance?


I think that's more the, you know, the approach we take is we want to provide transparency. We want to support them in, in a sense that, you know, they should progress. We don't wanna blame them for not doing certain things. I think that's, I mean, an approach you can also take and just, you know, issue a list and say, look, these are all about law firms.


That's not our business model. Um, we want to, you know, provide objective data that helps them to further progress. And I think that's the key because at the end, what we want to achieve is really to have a positive impact and not, you know, a, a shame and blame game here. But I think that's, you know, a journey law firms need to start.


If they haven't started that they really start being more transparent about what they do and how they do it. Well, this has been an awesome conversation and we genuinely appreciate you coming and sharing both your story, you know, your thoughts, but also what the company that you created along with the co-founder is doing to sort of advance the ball in this really important space.


Before we leave, we're gonna do a couple rapid fire questions if that's okay with you. So I'm gonna do an, what I hope will be an easy one.  um, what is, uh, it could be a recent book or a favorite book that you've read that has had an impact in how you're thinking about either the world or these issues. So, one book I recently read was, uh, thoughtfulness, which talks about, you know, in factual statements.


Kind of the evolution of, of humanity. So I think, you know, it provides a lot of information to say, look, we've come a long way. The only thing we hear in the news is the bad news, but, you know, poverty has never been, uh, as let's say, low as today, but only thing you read is, you know, how many people still live in poverty.


So it's not to say that there isn't poverty around, but it's more the thoughtfulness. So, and I think that's very powerful to get facts and that's, you know, data at the end of the day that can, you know, change your views. My question. And maybe this requires a little bit more thought, but just coming off of that response, I guess my question for you is if you had to give one piece of advice to like a leader of a law firm right now, what would that be?


I would start, uh, a conversation about the purpose of the law firm and involve. You know, all the ranks, I wouldn't start with the partnership and I wouldn't, you know, start with here's my idea. Do you agree? So I would listen to what people say and then, you know, play that back. And certainly, you know, at the end, the partnership needs to decide, but I think that's what I would do as a, as a law firm leader, I would go and ask people.


So what do you think is our purpose? I love that. That's awesome. Thank you so much. Well, last thing before we really wrap up Adrian, if people want to learn more about you or more about impact buys, what's the best way to do that. And we'll put the links, any links in the show notes too, but just, you know, in case people are listening in the car or whatever, set up a video call.


Awesome. Well, thanks again for being here. We genuinely appreciate it. We appreciate you, and we appreciate the work that you are doing in this space to progress the conversation. So thank you. Thank you both. And, um, really appreciate the opportunity to share some of my thoughts. Awesome. Well, thanks everyone for tuning in and we'll be back with another episode soon.


Hi, this is Nita. You can connect with both Becky and neon. LinkedIn links are in the show. We'd love to hear from you. If you know someone who is doing meaningful work that contributes to wellbeing and think they'd be a great guest for our show, please let us know. And if you're enjoying the show, please leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform.