Better Know a B: BWB
Karen Collins of Bates Wells Braithwaite took some time out of her busy schedule to sit down with us and share the BWB story, and to talk about why they decided to become a B Corp.
Tell us a bit about the history of your company?
Bates Wells Braithwaite was founded in 1970 on a very distinct set of values. Our founding partner, Andrew Phillips, set out an ethos which committed the firm to creating real social value, while supporting each employee to have a strong work-life balance. BWB was one of the first law firms to specialise in charity and social enterprise law and has been at the forefront of changes in legislation throughout the years.
In 2014 we adopted an alternative business structure to become more than a law firm, taking on team of accountants to provide advisory and impact services – everything from advising on mergers to delivering social investment and social finance solutions, including social impact bonds. We’re diversified further in recent months with the addition of BWB Compliance, a new service line offering practical solutions for the regulatory needs of financial services firms – particularly crowd funding.
Why did you become a B Corp?
At BWB, we’ve always looked at success in a different way. While success in our sector is often defined based solely on the profits, we never felt that this was right. The aim is not to be more and more profitable. The aim is to have as big and as positive an impact on society and the environment as we can, whilst running a sustainable and profitable business. So we take a medium and long term view and expect that our B Corp status will make us more profitable. Being a healthier business attracts better business.
We’re not perfect and still have a lot we want to achieve. B Corp gives us a great framework to challenge ourselves to continuous improvement.
What excites you about being part of the global B Corporation movement?
We believe that B Corp has the potential to shift the global business culture into a direction where it focuses on the triple bottom line. Seeing the ever-increasing numbers of new B Corps certifying around the world is inspiring. We’re very excited to be a part of the growing worldwide community.
Can you tell us about the impact that your company is having in the world?
Our charity law practice has a long history of innovation in the third sector. We advised on the Charities Act 2006 and established community interest companies as a legal form. We also successfully registered new charities that have broadened the established definition of charitable purpose, opening the door for a range of new causes to gain charitable status, from protecting the environment to supporting the gay community.
Today, we’re still working every day to support charities and social enterprises large and small, working across the full spectrum of charitable activity. We’re also looking at ways that we can help more businesses to commit to making profit responsibly. Louise Harman, one of our solicitors, is currently on secondment at the Cabinet Office, supporting their technical review of mission-led businesses.
Our Impact and Advisory team is developing a range of social impact bonds, which will generate investment to address key social issues.
What benefits have you seen since certification?
Becoming a B Corp has really helped us to crystallise what we want to collectively achieve as a firm. Our social ambitions are at the heart of our new firm strategy, with departmental business plans all focusing on furthering these aims. Certification has really challenged us to set the bar high for ourselves and we’ve seen a big push from all corners of the firm on everything from improving our environmental practices to creatively engaging with new initiatives.
How did your other staff react to the certification?
Many of our staff were drawn to BWB originally by our ethos, so the B Corp certification was widely seen as a great way to embed our values further in the business. We’re keen to engage everyone across the firm in our continuing B Corp journey, so we recently held a workshop at our all-staff away day, which culminated in a freewheeling brainstorming session. We’ve had some really creative ideas coming out of it and are looking forward to getting some implemented.
What has changed in your organisation as a result of taking the B Impact Assessment?
This year, we’ve focused a lot on our people and the impact we’re having on our own and the wider community. We’re established a Diversity and Inclusion Forum, drawing members from all levels of the organisation. The forum keeps inclusivity top of mind by holding workshops, themed events and hosting guest speakers from organisations such as Stonewall, Alzheimers UK and Macmillan.
Our Employee Forum ensures that concerns, ideas and suggestions from all over the firm are discussed with the senior management in an open environment.
We’ve encouraged employees to initiate new community programmes, the most notable of which has been our Schools Outreach. This allows volunteers from all over the firm to provide workshops and work experience to children from disadvantaged schools.
What does the year ahead hold in store for your company?
This year, we’re aiming to grow our client base by working with more mission-led businesses. Our status as a B Corp gives us a unique insight into how our legal advice can be applied to the particular needs of a business concerned with social responsibility, especially as regards our Employment and Corporate practices.
We’re going to further develop some innovative new ways of delivering services to clients by expanding Get Legal, our unique online tool that allows charities and social enterprises to access tailor-made legal documents at the fraction of the cost of engaging a solicitor. We’ll be further enhancing the site for small charities, to ensure that a limited legal budget doesn’t prevent small organisations from staying compliant in their legal documentation.
Who is your B Corp crush?
Cook has been a real B Corp inspiration for us. Their dedication to the B Corp movement is outstanding. Charlotte Sewell was kind enough to come along to our all-staff B Corp workshop at our summer away day, sharing some insights and ideas about what they’ve done to boost their assessment score. Some of their employee engagement ideas really struck our staff and we’ve had a number of Cook-inspired suggestions for change coming through since then!
It’s 2020, 5 years since you certified as a B Corp, what does the movement look like?
B Corp is a household name brand and is widely looked for by socially conscious consumers. A scattering of large PLCs have certified, which helped bring the B Corp movement into the mainstream. More and more businesses are undertaking the assessment (which is widely promoted on local authority websites such as the City of London Corporation), and the Benefit Company legal status with a permanent locked in legal B Corp status, has just come into force – by the same Act which bought in employee and consumer directors promised by Theresa May.
What is inspiring you at the moment?
I was very inspired to see the first public call for a B Corp legal form in the UK. This is a major development that could see the movement shift even further into the mainstream. At the London public consultation meeting for the Cabinet Office working party on Mission Led Businesses, B Corp organisations seemed to be everywhere and made a major contribution to that debate.