Advice to wannabe lawyers comes as part of new student report examining legal professions links to oil and gas industry
Aspiring lawyers should question their target law firms about their work in the fossil fuel industry before accepting a training contract, a group of eco-minded law students has said.
Law Students for Climate Accountability (LSCA), a US-based, student-led climate change movement, has produced a new report that it says “exposes” London’s legal industry ties with fossil fuel companies and the role top-ranked law firms play in “exacerbating the climate crisis”.
‘The Carbon Circle’ report, released yesterday, also emphasises the role students play in bringing about change and encourages them to ask law firms about their records on fossil fuel transactions, litigation, and arbitration work and query their client selection processes. Going further still, the report advises trainee and junior lawyers to request to opt out of projects for fossil fuel clients.
While the lead organisation in this endeavour was the LSCA, the report itself was co-authored by UK students from top UK and Irish universities including the University of Cambridge, Trinity College Dublin, the University of Bristol, London Metropolitan University and BPP Law School.
The report analysed UK law firms’ oil and gas representation and claims that 55 firms facilitated £1.48 trillion in fossil fuel projects through transactional work between 2018 and 2022. These 55 firms were singled out as each had acted in at least £1 billion worth of fossil fuel transactions over the past five years.
Amongst the firms analysed were all members of the Magic Circle, who, according to the report, were collectively responsible for over £285 billion worth of fossil fuel transactional work.
Camila Bustos, LSCA co-founder and report editor, said:
“The legal profession plays an indispensable role in supporting the fossil fuel industry, from arranging financing and writing contracts to ensuring corporations aren’t held accountable for harming communities. As we have worked to change the conversation in the US, we’ve also realised the extent to which these firms are global actors, and we’re excited to have found a group of students and legal professionals in the UK who are passionate about highlighting the role of lawyers in enabling climate destruction.”
The report comes not long after a UK group called Lawyers are Responsible issued a “declaration of conscience” outside London’s Royal Courts of Justice. Signed by over 100 lawyers, they pledge states that they refuse to act for companies supporting new fossil fuel projects or to prosecute peaceful climate change protesters.
The move triggered a debate over the ‘cab rank rule’ which sets out barristers’ obligation to represent everyone. It does not apply to solicitors, but amongst increasing pressure to go green, The Law Society recently published new guidance for law firms concerning client selection.