An increased emphasis on sustainable business practice has led to an expansion in the roles of in-house lawyers, according to research.

A report from national firm Bond Dickinson Beyond Responsibility: The emerging role of legal counsel in sustainable business, finds that changes in legislation and regulation, along with a number of high-profile corporate collapses and scandals in recent years, have led to a re-evaluation of sustainability practices.

Of the 60 general counsel surveyed across a number of sectors, 71% said that a greater focus on governance has had a ‘major’ or ‘measurable’ impact on operations.

As such 33% reported formal changes to their roles and responsibilities. Around 37% said they had established sustainable business structures and policies internally, while 35% said they had advised on legal issues relating to corporate sustainability projects and initiatives.

Victor Tettmar, executive partner at Bond Dickinson, said boards are increasingly looking to their legal advisers to contribute at a strategic level.

He said: ‘Sustainability is proving a legitimate career development path for senior lawyers looking to develop their roles within the in-house structure.’

However, 72% said market forces rather than legal requirements would have the greatest impact on sustainability practices in the next five years.

GCs said customers are increasingly requiring businesses to demonstrate sustainable business practices.