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Climate change ‘valid’ reason for law firms to reject clients, says Law Society

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New Chancery Lane guidance offers eco advice and warns against greenwashing

The Law Society has published “milestone” guidance that suggests law firms may be able to refuse to act for clients whose business contradicts net zero targets or the firm’s own stance on climate change.

The new guidance also advises firms to look at their own environmental practices and warns against greenwashing (making untruthful or misleading statements about how eco-friendly a product or service is) instead of implementing credible environmental practices.

The publication is the first time guidance of this kind has been issued to solicitors. However, at the bar, the climate debate has recently made headlines as over 100 lawyers signed a pledge refusing to act for companies supporting new fossil fuel projects or to prosecute peaceful climate change protesters.

The pledge triggered a debate over the ‘cab rank rule’ which sets out barristers’ obligation to represent everyone. It does not apply to solicitors, but many law firms are experiencing increasing pressure to go green.

For students selecting a law firm, green credentials appear to play an increasingly important role. Over in the US, a group of aspiring lawyers launched a boycott of US law firm Gibson Dunn in 2021 over the firm’s “record of furthering climate change and environmental injustice”.

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Lubna Shuja, president of the Law Society, said:

“The effects of climate change — even on legal practices – are wide-ranging and constantly evolving. Solicitors should be aware of this changing landscape and its potential impact upon their organisations, as well as on the legal advice they provide.

“We encourage solicitors to take the initiative to understand and pre-empt the climate legal risks with the help of our guidance. This will ensure they can continue to run their businesses and advise their clients competently and compliantly,” she added.

Responding, The City of London Law Society (CLLS) said it welcomed the move and recognised the vital importance of the matters addressed in the guidance for themselves and their clients.

“For many years City law firms have actively engaged with their own operational impacts and with businesses and clients in thoughtful discussion and planning in order to address the pressing demands of climate challenges in a commercial world and, where appropriate, to assist businesses in promoting the transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy,” the Society said.

It added: “City solicitors play an important and active part in helping to understand and meet the scale of the challenge posed by climate change, and the related legal, policy, social and economic changes they bring for businesses and clients. The Guidance brings information on a complex range of considerations for practising lawyers together in one place. It will provide a reference point for solicitors looking to understand the legal profession’s collective response, and be of particular help to those practising in the most relevant areas and those looking to get more actively involved in that response.”

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13 Comments

Can I Take That Paid Work Instead?

Literally every person I know who holds frequent flyer status (Gold and Silver) with British Airways is a lawyer. In some chambers, BA lounge access is quite literally a ‘badge of honour’ amongst barristers.

Who the heck do they think they are to refuse to act for those who ‘contribute’ to climate change?

(23)(13)

You can make the tea

How banal. Flying is a tiny contribution to emissions and one that will reduce as technology advances. It can represent a high percentage of an individual’s direct footprint, if by “direct” you mean the emissions of a plane that would fly anyway, but in the scheme of things the issue is of no material impact to total CO2 emissions and other metrics. So, I am not going to be shamed by people who don’t understand basic data analysis.

And a silver card is not a badge of honour. Every two-bit provincial small company director has that. BA gave silver status out like confetti to attract the sort of basic business traveller who likes to think they have a special perk. In fact, one big upside of gold nowadays is you can avoid the silver cattle complete, by checking in at first class and going to the better lounge.

(10)(19)

Uhm

I agree that what OP said is trivial because it’s boring old whataboutism. But, flying is a major contributor to climate change. Most companies have to cut down on flying people around to meet whatever goal they’re setting for 2050 etc… let’s not spread misinformation here

(11)(5)

You can make the tea

I’m no climate denier. Where is the “misinformation”? Aviation is responsible for about 1.9% of CO2 emissions today. That is less than cement manufacture, 3%, livestock 6%, road transport 11.9% and only just below shipping 1.7%.

You’ve missed the point, people obsess about plane travel only because it appears a significant proportion of an individual’s carbon footprint IF the CO2 from a flight they take is prorated to them which itself is a flawed approach. But in the overall scheme of things that is not a sensible metric to judge steps to reduce emissions and produces the sort of distorted thinking evidenced by the OP. I am not spreading misinformation, I’m clearing up misunderstandings based on poor grasp of relative data sets.

I’m doing my bit for the environment. I’m not doing it by pandering to those who do not understand statistics, like the OP.

If most of the consumer goods you buy are made in China or India you are doing far more harm in terms of CO2 emissions than someone flying on a business trip.

(9)(3)

Exasperated

I’m afraid if we really want to be accurate, aviation makes up around 2.7% of C02e gross emissions. However, one has to multiply that figure by 1.95, to take into account the effect of radiative forcing, caused by the emission of the C02e at higher altitude, which takes us to about 5.3% of global emissions (IPCCC report, 2022).

It’s also one of the fastest growing, if not the fastest, ‘heavy emitting sectors’, with an upper-bounds estimate of 4x 2015 levels by 2050 (Environmental and Energy Study Institute, 2022).

Lastly, it’s important to make the point that it’s a lot easier to ask someone/a corporate to reduce their flying, than it is to ask people to stop heating their homes/buying generally necessary consumer goods/eating reasonably healthily and economically.

Just my two cents.

You can make the tea

I was using the figures from Our World In Data, the Oxford body. It tends to be far more reliable as a source of such figures. And the differences in analysis don’t change the point that flying has been demonised for completely statistically illiterate reasons.

Since you are still buying products from China, I’ll keep on flying where and when I want. The cumulatively impact of behaviour such as yours is far worse for the environment than what I am doing.

I love when someone tells me to change my behaviour, while at the same time refusing to change what they are doing.

MC Ass

This might sound insane, but maybe they aren’t the same people…

(5)(0)

Jonathan

I have silver status off the back of just 2 return trips – I think owing to some sort of special offer/deal. It isn’t exactly difficult and doesn’t take a lawyer to achieve that (albeit I am one).

(0)(1)

Twitter Is For Narcissists

I know for a fact that some of the American-born partners/their wives at US firms here fly home to see their relatives and friends in the USA every 5 weeks.

‘Environmental injustice’ indeed.

(7)(3)

Old Buffetonian

Generation DryNites is at it again…

(0)(3)

A view from 36,000 feet

Oh for fuck’s sake. Using air travel, running petrol cars, buying the cheapest energy available, making and selling non-essential goods or services, etc. etc. is not horrifying moral turpitude.

This eco zealotry is really just a degeneration of the religious impulse. People need some cause to follow and preach about. All the better for recruitment of believers if the creed is apocalyptic.

Oil companies are not Satanists. People who fly to Malaga for a holiday or have a hot tub at home are not demons.

(6)(6)

Paul Chipman

I’m happy to have my opinion changed, but at the moment I’m afraid I still don’t see any concrete evidence of manmade climate change. I’ve looked, I ask, but no one is able to provide the basic arguments in an understandable and non generic way – nothing is that complicated. Plus the cause isn’t helped by the long list of scare stories that fail to materialise – man made or not.

So until we get out facts straight, measures such as these are greenwashing in themselves.

(1)(7)

James

Just by replying to this thread we’re all contributing to the problem, regardless of our agenda!

(Data generation and associated storage actually causes more carbon emissions than aviation, at least according to this article – in German… 🙂

https://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/das-internet-verursacht-mehr-treibhausgase-als-fliegen-18838849.html

(0)(0)

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