Eco-anxiety, a form of anxiety linked to the climate crisis, is a wellbeing issue for barristers which “should be taken seriously” by chambers, a KC and environmental law specialist has said.
Estelle Dehon KC, co-chair of the Bar Council’s climate crisis working group, said there was also a debate to be had about how the cab-rank rule applied when barristers objected to representing fossil fuel companies.
Ms Dehon, based at Cornerstone Barristers, said it was “rational to recognise the extent of the crisis that is facing us”.
However, eco-anxiety could be “really debilitating and cause real sadness, anger, fear and depression”.
There should be support and recognition from chambers, particularly where barristers handle climate-related work and “come across material that might trigger that sort of reaction”. She described eco-anxiety as “a wellbeing issue which should be taken seriously”.
Speaking during a discussion on ‘Climate anxiety and the environmentally conscious lawyer’, hosted by the Bar Council’s Young Barristers Committee, Ms Dehon said that “no matter what area of law you work in”, lawyers would “inevitably be affected”.
It was essential for all lawyers to understand the climate crisis to be able to properly address their clients’ needs, and “lawyers were very often in a position” to influence change.
“There may be an obligation on lawyers acting for clients who are taking action which has a very serious deleterious impact on the climate to give advice on how these clients should be acting in a more climate-responsible manner.”
Ms Dehon said that, like diversity, the climate crisis “meshes with our professional obligations” and both Law Society and the Bar Council were working on new guidance in the area.
Within the next year, lawyers should have “a really good set of guidelines to help them understand how they can be more climate-conscious, whatever they do in practice”.
Anouchka Grose, a psychoanalyst who has written books on understanding and managing eco-anxiety, defined it as “any form of anxiety around the climate crisis”, which “could manifest as fear, depression or panic”.
She went on: “I don’t think it’s considered by anyone to be a disorder you shouldn’t be feeling – the cause is the climate crisis”.
Ms Dehon said it was “very challenging” to accept the trajectory in terms of global warming while “the obvious actions that need to be taken to avoid catastrophe are not being taken”.
Lawyers could find support in the “community of lawyers building up who are climate conscious”. Lawyers were “able to protest and a lot of them are doing that”.
Responding to a question on whether lawyers should stop “facilitating” the fossil fuel industry and encourage others to do the same, she said the cab-rank rule was a “touchy subject” and there was “a debate to be had about that”.
Ms Dehon said there were “different views about the way in which certain clients should have access to legal advice”.
She added: “We don’t want a situation where anyone connected to the fossil fuel industry is denied legal advice. Lots of lawyers who advise fossil fuel clients might be doing it in a climate-conscious way.”