In the rapidly changing world of law, one area has surfaced as both a challenge and an opportunity: sustainability. Our Head of ESG Practice at Sorainen Lithuania Vitalija Impolevičienė, whose journey from finance and insurance law to pioneering sustainability initiatives has been very inspiring, has shared with the global legal directory Legal500 her professional way and the ESG insights.

Here is the full interview.

How did you become involved in sustainability issues?

I have been practising finance and insurance law for over 15 years. Throughout this time, I’ve observed the financial sector emerge as a pioneer in adopting mandatory sustainability measures, such as the EU Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation.  

Motivated by this evolving landscape, I began to advise and guide clients within the financial sector. As our understanding deepened, it became clear that issues related to sustainability are relevant to clients from more and more diverse industries, so I naturally started to lead this area on a firm-wide level. My prior experience within a Scandinavian-owned company also helped, as I witnessed firsthand their efforts towards sustainability long before it spread throughout the Baltic countries. This background has uniquely positioned me to navigate the complexities of ESG cases.  

What have been your top three career highlights since you became involved in this space?

When you start to delve into a new field, having a solid theoretical background is very important. During my time at Vilnius University studying law, no lectures on sustainability were offered. Thus, a couple of intensive courses related to sustainability at the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and Environment added much value.  

When it comes to client work, I find particular excitement in assignments where high-level sustainability requirements intersect with specific local legislation, allowing me to provide real value to our clients. Take, for instance, the complexities of stakeholder engagement in the Baltic construction sector. What specific local legal requirements ensure engagement and address the concerns of various parties? Here lies a great value in operating within an integrated business law firm, where a diverse array of legal experts from all areas of law collaborates, enabling us to provide practical advice. 

What has been your biggest professional challenge working on sustainability matters and what did you learn from it?

The biggest challenge lies in defining the boundaries of legal responsibilities, which blur with each new assignment. While it is not the role of a lawyer to dictate strategic business decisions for a client, lawyers play a vital role in accurately interpreting and explaining the legislative requirements while identifying potential legal risks. 

The evolving nature of ESG legal practice requires a nuanced understanding of the relationship between legal frameworks and business objectives. In Sorainen, every legal practitioner has also a deep understanding of specific industries, which is paramount in providing effective legal support. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing clients in the area of ESG/climate change/sustainability right now?

Several critical obstacles come to mind. Firstly, I think a huge challenge lies in the lacking of sustainability experts within the market. Furthermore, there is a lack of experts who understand that businesses need practical solutions, moving beyond mere idealistic thinking. In addition, some companies, particularly those operating outside the regulated risk management and compliance systems, still need to acknowledge that sustainability integration is not a one-time exercise. Rather, it demands a transformative experience to be integrated into daily operations and processes and, like it or not, appropriately documented. 

Within your market, what has been the most transformative change regarding sustainability, and how would you assess its impact on both the green transition and the nature of your practice?

Without a doubt, it is the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. When we talk about actual accountability and legal obligations, and it is the CFO who is in charge, the issue is in good hands and will be resolved.

The legal sector will go through a process of natural self-improvement while helping clients in their ESG journeys. I’m glad to witness Sorainen’s proactive position, recognising long before the rise of the term “sustainability” that as a law firm, our greatest impact lies in using our legal expertise to make significant change. This has directed us to engage in initiatives such as student education, pro bono work, and advocacy on legal matters of public importance. 

What advice would you give to those who want to get to where you have?

My advice is simple and applicable across all fields: do what resonates deeply with you. Dive fully in areas that spark your passion and curiosity.  Trust that by following your inner compass, all other aspects will naturally fall into place. 

What is the best bit about being a lawyer working on sustainability issues?

The most rewarding part is that sustainability issues are diverse and complex, allowing you to deal with a broad spectrum of legal areas. In Sorainen, we have the luxury of having access to top-tier specialists across various fields, enabling us to provide tailored support to our clients. Whether addressing the needs of a transport sector client, a property developer, or navigating labour law and anti-money laundering regulations, we as experts from diverse legal backgrounds collaborate to deliver optimal solutions. At the same time, we uphold a comprehensive perspective for navigating the overall ESG framework. 

If to give only one piece of advice, I would share this: if you decide to sell your business, and the best price is offered by a potential buyer for whom sustainability issues are fundamentally important – will you be prepared to demonstrate that your business has an adequate ESG framework?  

Given your long-standing expertise regarding the sustainability regulation impacting the financial sector, which requirements do you feel have had the most transformative impact?

I believe the sustainable finance disclosure requirements stand out as the most transformative. These regulations serve as a tipping point, aimed to drive significant change within the financial sector. As access to finance remains a fundamental necessity for any business, the financial sector has the expertise and tools necessary to guide clients towards adopting more sustainable practices.  

Combining your expertise as a finance and insurance lawyer and ESG service group co-head, what developments do you feel need to occur in the financial and insurance sectors in order for the sustainability agenda to continue to move forward?

There exists a significant opportunity for the insurance industry to stimulate more sustainable choices among its clientele. This can be achieved through the innovation of insurance products, their pricing structures and claims administration processes. I foresee the growth in such initiatives in the Baltic markets. 

Regarding financing, I believe there remains a considerable educational gap among SME customers. These entities would benefit from standartised guidelines and instruments that would allow them to confidently implement measures that align with the majority of financial market participants.

Our Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) team is at your disposal, should you need advice on any legal issues you are facing.

Contact our expert:

Vitalija Impolevičienė

Head of ESG Practice at Sorainen