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Is Your Law Firm Part Of The Climate Problem?
You can help fight fossil fuels… legally.
Today a bunch of kids in Montana won a big victory for the planet, when a Montana state court decided the state had violated their state-constitutionally-enshrined rights to “a clean and healthful environment” by promoting the use of fossil fuels.
The case is one of many small legal victories starting to happen around the world as the movement to stop burning up the planet (of which I consider myself part) starts using the legal system more aggressively. And as more talented lawyers start focusing on working against fossil fuels (and with more money behind them).
Also this week, Law Students For Climate Accountability (LSCA), an organization I’ve been working with for a couple years now (as an advisor), launched their 2023 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard. This annual report gives the 100 most prestigious law firms in the U.S. a climate score (from A to F) based on how much fossil fuels work they do (based on 3rd party data in three categories: litigation, transactions, and lobbying).
First published in 2020, the scorecard has become widely followed by law students seeking jobs and the law firms themselves… to the point where some now even publish press releases when they get a good grade.
I did a blog post last year with more detail on LSCA and their scorecard, and how you can support them if you want (I hope you will… it’s a great group, and very focused).
The basic problem is that oil and gas companies and their investors have spent (and continue to spend) billions hiring the best legal talent to make sure they can keep investing heavily in fossil fuel infrastructure, locking in their planet-destroying profits for decades to come.
Aside from calling these firms out and asking them to re-think the advisability of this, as LSCA is doing, the other approach is to lawyer up to take the other side (the planet’s side) of these cases.
And there are plenty of non-profits doing just that around the world. Here’s a list I put together a couple years ago for my How To Support Climate Legal Action blog post:
With over 150 full time lawyers (actually way more than that now), this non-profit is increasingly focused on climate and energy, representing hundreds of clients for free in climate-related litigation.
This London-based non-profit with 100+ lawyers has eight offices globally and raises about $25M a year to pursue a wide variety of climate litigation.
This non-profit public interest law firm represents young people in global legal efforts to secure their rights to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate.
This group at Columbia University develops legal techniques to address climate change, helps educate the next generation of climate lawyers, and publishes some really good climate litigation databases. Also see their blog.
This small non-profit provides pro-bono legal aid and resources to scientists who are threatened or silenced due to their findings or fields of study.
These lawyers provide litigation advice and legal knowledge to climate lawyers and activists around the world.
This foundation, having won a breakthrough climate case ratified by the Dutch supreme court in 2019, now provides support for climate litigation all over the world (see this interesting list of cases).
This Dutch arm of Friends of The Earth brought the breakthrough case against Shell, and acts as a matchmaker between financial donors and other NGOs working on similar cases globally.
Changing minds, not just laws.
This legal-industry piece of the climate battle is a grinding effort in the courtroom, but potentially a faster effort outside the courtroom, since it involves changing minds. Minds of law students, new associates and even the most senior partner lawyers and their corporate clients.
The core question is: are the incremental profits to you, from being on the ‘keep burning up the planet’ side of the law, worth the costs to you and your family down the road in terms of livability of this planet?
I’m hopeful that for more and more people in law and business, the answer is becoming a no-brainer - as in, no!