Meet Jonathan Storper, Attorney in Sustainability

Innov8Social had the chance to speak with Jonathan Storper, a Partner at the well-established law firm Hanson Bridgett and lead attorney of the firm’s Sustainable Business Practice. Jonathan was instrumental in drafting and supporting the benefit Jonathan Storpercorporation legislation in California through all stages of its development and passage.

To provide a little background, Jonathan has been a prominent voice and early champion of creating a new legal structure that recognizes impact-oriented goals in addition to profit.

Storper has been synonymous with the benefit corporation movement from its nascent stage. If you have been keeping up with Innov8Social since its start in May 2011 you may have read recaps and posts about events such as the Sustainable Enterprise ConferenceSan Jose Green Business Academy, and SOCAP11—events at which Jonathan presented or spoke about the topic. The support extended to his firm, Hanson Bridgett, which has been frequently listed in support of the legislation.

Read the Interview

Q1 | Innov8Social:  How do you define social innovation?

A1 | Jonathan Storper, Partner at Hanson Bridgett LLP:   I define it as any new venture or action that attempts to improve the human condition. Social innovation harnesses the creativity of humans to improve the human condition in some way.

Q2 | Innov8Social:  Was AB 361 (California’s benefit corporation legislation) the first piece of legislation you helped to write? What was your experience in drafting it?

A2 | Jonathan Storper:   The benefit corporation legislation, passed in October 2011 was not the first legislative effort I was involved with. The first was AB 2944 in 2008, which was a precursor to benefit corporation legislation.

That bill proposed that companies could consider multiple stakeholders (including interests of employees, the community, and the environment) when assessing the best interest of the corporation. It passed through the California State Assembly and State Senate but was ultimately vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

I found it interesting to see how the legislature works, how support and opposition for legislation works, and how coalitions work.  It was wonderful to work on enacting policy. And, I saw first-hand that passing legislation is an iterative process.

The first bill, AB 2944, was essentially a constituency statute, as 31 other states have. The bill had significant opposition of a committee from the State Bar.

Hanson Bridget is a founding B corp member and was in contact with the B Lab family early in the process. The idea for the new legislation came from a conversation with B Lab.  In thinking about proposing new legislation, I wanted to be sure the new form was one that social entrepreneurs wanted, not something only attorneys wanted.

For AB 361, the team drafting the legislation was more ready and more aware of support and opposition. I learned from the prior experience that projects like these take longer than you think and really require coalition-building. I knew it would be vital to build a constituency and have a broad coalition even before working on the legislation, so we created a legal working group to draft and develop the legislation and process.

I am much more satisfied with what [the 2011 legislation] evolved to [from the 2008 version]. It is broader than a constituency statute and provides for accountability, transparency, consumer protection, and shareholder rights. Legislation is iterative and even the current benefit corporation may also need to evolve and change in the future.

Q3 | Innov8Social:  Would it still be useful to have a constituency statute in CA?

A3 | Jonathan Storper:   Having a constituency statute would be great because it would encourage boards to do more for social and environmental issues.

However, there is no assessment or reporting required with a constituency statute. Considering that new legislation such as the benefit corporation requires transparency, it may be more protective than a constituency statute. I’m not sure that a constituency statute for California is as necessary now.

Q4 | Innov8Social:  What advice do you have for social innovation-minded attorneys interested in policy and legislation work?

A4 | Jonathan Storper:    Don’t get discouraged. It may take longer than you think—but a few really dedicated people can make a difference, still. A few people and a few good ideas are able to harness exponential power of really good people, companies, and associations. Being involved in the process has renewed my faith in the legislature.

If you choose to work for a firm, find one that encourages pro bono work. I am grateful to be part of a firm that supports pro bono work. Being so involved with the legislation has also been helpful to the firm. I have incorporated a number of benefit corporations, in fact–just one earlier today.Q5 | Innov8Social:  How has the passage of benefit corporation legislation and flexible purpose corporation affected your legal practice?

A5 | Jonathan Storper:   It has been interesting. I always tell people who are interested in converting or starting a social enterprise about the usual customary forms as well as flexible purpose corporation and benefit corporation. About 2/3 or 75% of social enterprises that have chosen one of the two new structures has elected to to structure as a benefit corporations. The choice to do so is more aligned with the already-existing mission/practice of the business.

I have been approached about new legal structures by companies such as an ad agency, music company, consumer product company, science fiction publisher, and education providers.

I have been asked to make presentations about the new structures, and found that I really enjoy the opportunity to speak and write about this topic.

Q6 | Innov8Social:  How do you see social enterprises measuring impact?

A6 | Jonathan Storper:   This is one of the biggest challenges for social enterprise. There are a number of different standard-setting organizations. This is unfortunate but is how our economy works.

It will take awhile for there to be a uniform way to measure impact, but will be valuable.

Q7 | Innov8Social:  What is next for you and Hanson Bridgett in terms of projects related to sustainability and social entrepreneurship…in 2013 and beyond?

A7 | Jonathan Storper:   A lot of attorneys interested in the area branch out and use their knowledge in sustainability to do different things. One of my Partners participates in Global Social Venture Competition at Haas.

My next goal is to come up with a best practices guide for benefit corporation in collaboration with UCLA’s School of Public Policy. I am interested in providing guidance on how a Board of Directors would approach a multi-stakeholder model.  We hope to provide guidance on how the Board can create an organization using assets that are tangible and intangible that help solve the human condition.

    What should we write about next?

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