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Tech Check

Colin Baker Interview

One of the sectors actively pursuing a more sustainable future is the professional services.

Traditionally law and accountancy have been paper-heavy, premises intensive and reliant upon deep rooted legacy processes. However, the escalating energy crisis and the positive experience of remote working (not to mention a necessity to embrace and experiment with new technologies) during the pandemic has encouraged many professional firms to imbed more sustainable practices.

We recently caught up with Colin Baker, partner at Potter Clarkson, one of Europe’s largest IP law practices, and head of his firm’s dedicated Cleantech and Energy team, to ask him about the work he has been doing to make Potter Clarkson a more sustainable and environmentally friendly firm.

We began by asking him why the firm chose to pursue a more sustainable way of working.

“Obviously as people we could see the headlines. The world was heading towards crisis point in terms of the energy we use, the energy resources we have available and the damage the alarming level of emissions generated from the way we use energy is doing.

At the same time, as IP attorneys we specialise in innovation and, more specifically, in innovation in the cleantech, energy and environmental areas we could see there was a definite shift in the type of new ideas we were protecting and commercialising. The shift was towards not only finding more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways of working, but also to scale up the production and roll out of these technologies.

When we put these two things together, it was more than clear that every type of business must take a stand, change the way they work and start to play their part in slowing the energy and environmental crises.”

How did you start making that shift?

“Slowly but surely! Around 8 years ago we signed up to ISO 9001 (Quality Management), ISO 14001 (Environmental Management) and ISO 27001 (Information Security Management) . Signing up was our commitment to get going, to take affirmative action across the firm. We introduced recycling bins, better cycle storage to encourage our staff to cycle to work rather than drive, timers and movement sensors in our offices and meeting rooms to limit energy usage, and much more.

The biggest change came when we looked at how we could improve the way we managed our workflow from an environmental, efficiency and cost perspective.

Traditionally Potter Clarkson was a Nottingham firm and traditionally the patent and trade mark professions have been based on clunky, paper-heavy processes. With a growing network of offices across Europe this was no longer viable. We had to find ways to share and work on client files, to manage and execute the renewals and other administrative requirements linked to patent and trade mark portfolios, and to coordinate highly intricate multijurisdictional patent litigation.

This meant we were thankfully quite a way down the line in terms of video comms, electronic workflow and even that mythical beast so many professional service firms had been chasing for so long, the paperless office!

As a result, moving to the network of home offices we needed to provide continuity for our clients and our colleagues wasn’t the arduous journey so many other firms had to navigate and the potential disruptions to both the level of service and the employment we provide were avoided.”

Finally, what does the future look like?

“Continued investment in systems is a must particularly given the rate at which new technology is becoming available. Since our initial drive towards more sustainable working practices, we have opened further offices – including a new one in London – and there could well be more.

Opening our new offices has taught us some valuable lessons, lessons cemented by our experiences during the pandemic. Any new premises will be smaller hubs, offering pre-booked hot desking and meeting facilities equipped with video technology so we can keep minimise costs, consumption and colleague travel.

But with more staff in more locations, we need to make sure our attorneys, solicitors and support staff can communicate and share documents, as well as work to common processes, in the most efficient ways.

We have already seen video comms have a huge impact on our need to travel, not only to see clients but also to see colleagues. In fact, even the European Patent Office was forced to adopt virtual proceedings and as this has been a success; it looks set to continue which again will help minimise our carbon footprint.

Electronic transfer has also been a huge contributor to making us more sustainable by saving cost, resource and wastage. Less print means less paper, less energy, less hardware and less ink and toner.

But believe it or not, the nut we are finding hard to crack is heating. Heating is always difficult. Different people want different temperatures; an office is always too hot for some and too cold for others especially in an open plan office. But we’ll get there even if the answer lies in using some of the brilliant new solutions our cleantech clients are creating!”

We would like to thank Colin for his time and openness and look forward to hearing how Potter Clarkson’s journey towards a more sustainable future progresses.