Lawyer Lara Pearson only wants to work with clients who operate in a “soulful” way. By that she means that they take into account not just the profitability of their businesses, but also their environmental and social impacts and ability to do good in the world.
So how does she make those judgements when she assesses a potential client? She does her due diligence, of course, asking questions about their practices and core values. But the avid snowboarder who lives across the street from a ski hill in the Lake Tahoe region of Nevada also gets an intuitive sense of whether they’re a fit for her.
“My barometer is really, ‘would I want to go for a hike with you, or would I want to spend a day going back-country snowboarding with you, or go rock-climbing with you,’ ” says Pearson. “If the answer is no, then I definitely don’t want to represent you.”
Pearson, an intellectual property lawyer who crafts brand-protection strategies for clients, didn’t always believe that businesses could have a positive impact on society. It took almost a decade of practicing law to figure out they could be leaders in that regard.
In late 2005, Pearson became inspired after reading 'Let My People Go Surfing', a book by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard about running an environmentally sustainable company. Early the following year, she became one of the first members of 1% for the Planet.
“It wasn’t [until then] that I realized you could use business as a force for good,” she says. “If all businesses did that we could solve all of the problems of the world."
Once she came to that conclusion, she focused her energy on making sure her own firm met that high standard and courting clients that did so too. In 2008, she became an official B Corporation – a North American organization that certifies for-profit businesses based on their adherence to high standards of environmental sustainability and social responsibility.
According Pearson, a B Corporation is a “soulful” corporation. She wants Brand Geek – the name of her one-person law firm – to be that kind of company, and she wants to represent ones like that too.
In 2012 Pearson started representing companies in the cannabis industry. She says most of the people who run these businesses naturally align with her values.
“They came to it because they want to help people,” she says. “[They] came to it because of actual illness and physical ailments – either themselves or someone in their families. They want to heal themselves (and others). And plant medicine makes so much more sense than pharmaceuticals.”
Pearson cites many examples of that “B Corp” approach in the cannabis industry. Last fall, she took part in the New West Summit, a conference in San Francisco focused on investment, technology and media developments in the cannabis industry.
At the conference, organizer Jim McAlpine put together the usual compliment of panel discussions and speakers about increasing the profitability of businesses, but she says they also had sessions focused on diversity, environmental sustainability and social justice.
“What a great job they did of not just creating value in how to run your cannabis company, but how to do it soulfully,” she says. “[They talked about] taking into account not just profitability, but also the environmental and social impacts and doing good in the world.”
Pearson also has high praise for Cody Bass and the Lake Tahoe Wellness Cooperative – a medical dispensary based in South Lake Tahoe, California.
She says that all of their products are not only organic - they go “well beyond” established testing standards.
Pearson says they’re also “over-the-top conscientious, wanting to give back to the community.”
They have an outreach program with a wide range of activities that includes free haircuts once a month, and voter-support initiatives to get people registered and out to the polls.
”It’s not just about ‘getting high,’ says Pearson. “It’s about giving back to the community and making it stronger. It’s about supporting each other and lifting each other up.”
“I didn’t know I’d get into all that as a trademark lawyer,” adds Pearson, a member of the National Cannabis Bar Association that was established in 2015.
Pearson believes the cannabis sector shares the same values as the “B Corp” movement, so she naturally wants to see more companies become certified.
However, the certifying B Corp organization isn’t sure the cannabis industry is a good fit. They accept applications from medical marijuana companies, and have issued a position paper that outlines the conditions under which they will certify them.
But when Pearson asked them about speaking at an educational event for the cannabis law association, they said no. The B Corp representatives remain concerned about what they see as the blurred lines between recreational and medical cannabis, she says. They are against supporting recreational cannabis firms, just as they oppose certifying tobacco companies. “They weren’t going to talk on panels as a result,” says Pearson.
Pearson will keep pressing the case for the cannabis industry, because she believes the very nature of the industry aligns with her values, and those of the B Corp movement.
“People are so much more soulful, grounded and down to earth,” she says, “which makes sense because we’re talking about a plant.”