Arthur Cox is not only one of Northern Ireland’s most highly regarded law firms. It is also a leading light when it comes to corporate social responsibility. The Chairperson of the CSR Committee, Holly Lyons, is instrumental in driving its social agenda.
Holly Lyons joined Arthur Cox as a trainee solicitor in 2010, qualifying in 2012. Her interest in CSR, however, goes right back to her school days.
“I was Head Girl at Friends School in Lisburn,” Holly explains, “and in that role I was left to organise a lot of events. These would have covered the straightforward social activities for pupils, but also talent shows, fashions shows and so on in aid of the various charities with which the school was involved. I probably didn’t realise it then, but I guess I was already forging a strong interest in community participation and in what my friends and I could do for our communities.”
On joining Arthur Cox, Holly volunteered as a junior member of the firm’s CSR Committee. Her talents quickly revealed themselves, and in no time she was organising staff barbeques and various fundraisers. Around the same time that she qualified as a banking and finance solicitor in 2012, the role as Chairperson of the CSR Committee became vacant and Holly was the natural choice to take over.
“Actually, the position I inherited when I took over was already quite a strong one,” Holly recalls. “Since Alan Taylor had become Managing Partner of the firm in 2008, he had been an excellent champion of the CSR agenda and had forged strong links with all sorts of community organisations. I’ve had great support from Alan and the leadership team in everything I’ve wanted to do from a CSR perspective, and the participation from partners and staff at all levels has been really inspiring.”
One of Holly’s first tasks in taking control of CSR was to place the firm’s work on a more formal footing. “We were doing so much excellent work,” she recalls, “it was all driven by enthusiasm so it had grown very organically and was a little ad hoc.”
The firm’s relationship with Business in the Community proved to be a great resource during this time.
“As a market leader, we recognised that Arthur Cox needed to be aware of its responsibilities towards our people, place and planet,” says Holly. “So our aim was to embed CSR into mainstream practices across our business and deliver meaningful impacts against our corporate objectives.”
Arthur Cox worked closely with BITC to create a new CSR Strategic Action Plan tailored to the firm. It re-structured its CSR Committee to ensure that it could draw on the strengths and enthusiasms from people at every grade and level of experience, and established three dedicated sub-committees which target the core areas of People, Place and Planet.
At the same time, the firm decided to concentrate its charitable efforts, and settled on a structure whereby it would support a single, dedicated charity that would rotate every two years. “This is particularly rewarding for everyone at the firm,” says Holly. “Over a two-year period, you can really get a sense of the difference that your involvement is making to a charity.” Decided by a poll of all staff, the firm has just finished its first biannual programme, with Marie Curie Cancer Care as the beneficiary. In total, over £10,000 was raised for the charity.
“It was so satisfying to see the impact that we had made,” says Holly. The new programme for 2015-2017 has Diabetes UK as the firm’s partner charity, and Holly is looking forward to producing similarly impressive results. “Diabetes is an issue that is close to some of our own people in the firm,” she explains, “so we’re really looking forward to our involvement with the charity.”
Holly is evidently very proud of the commitment that her firm and her colleagues have made to CSR in the past few years.
“We have really thrown ourselves into CSR,” she comments, “and when I say thrown I mean literally. Not only have we thrown ourselves off zip-lines over the River Lagan and abseiled the tallest building in Ireland – all in the name of charity – but we have taken part in numerous volunteer days in conjunction with BITC such as cleaning up the gardens of Marie Curie Hospice and looking after abandoned animals at Assisi Animal Sanctuary.”
In fact, the firm’s volunteering does not stop there, and employees are also involved in the Business in the Community Time to Read programme. Arthur Cox currently has a team of four staff who attend a local primary school once a week for two hours to assist pupils from a less privileged background with reading skills. And there is the Silver Surfer programme, too. Staff assist elderly and sometimes quite isolated people within the community so that they can access the world of the internet.
Not wanting to leave teenagers out of the Arthur Cox CSR scope, in January 2012 Holly and her committee launched a careers workshop for sixth form pupils called the Legal Pursuit. This programme aims to provide invaluable experience within the environment of commercial law as well as constructive and honest advice to those contemplating studying law at university. The workshop offers a great opportunity for young people to gain recognised work experience and represents the firm-wide commitment to corporate social responsibility.
We have had great success and feedback with our Legal Pursuit program each year since its launch in January 2012,” says Holly. “Our success was recognised when we were shortlisted for the Education Partner Award at BITC annual impact awards ceremony.”
And this is not the only acknowledgement of the firm’s good works. In January 2015, Arthur Cox won the prestigious Allianz Arts & Business NI Employee Engagement Award alongside partners AES, Cinemagic and Stephen Beggs, for a ground-breaking training video featuring a dramatised trial.
Yet despite the success of the firm’s CSR initiatives, Holly is keen to avoid the credit. “We’ve been very successful to date,” she says, “but that’s not down to me. It’s a reflection of the individuals that we have at our firm. People at every level roll up their sleeves and get involved – it’s very inspiring.”
For more information about Arthur Cox’s award-winning CSR programmes, please contact Holly Lyons on 028 9023 0007.