Magic circle firm agrees to meet lawyer eco-campaigners

Slaughter and May has become the first magic circle law firm to agree to meet Lawyers Are Responsible (LAR), the campaigners urging big practices to stop work on fossil fuel projects.

It follows the climate change group also canvassing outside the London office of US law firm Jones Day to alert employees of its representation of French oil company Total.

LAR was established this year and shot to prominence through its Declaration of Conscience, in which signatories committed not to prosecute climate protestors or work for fossil fuel companies.

Around 180 practitioners, academics, students and others have so far signed it, and sparked a major debate at the Bar about the cab-rank rule.

The group is targeting the magic circle and other firms identified in a report from Law Students for Climate Accountability as the main lawyers supporting the fossil fuel industry.

This said that Slaughter and May was responsible for £8.1bn in fossil fuel transactions between 2018 and 2022.

In a letter to senior partner Steve Cooke and managing partner Deborah Finkler, LAR said: “Slaughter and May has produced a document entitled Ambitious Corporate Climate Action. However, our view is that this document is an exercise in ‘greenwashing’ the firm.

“It refers only to [greenhouse gas] emissions relating to the firm’s own business… These emissions are miniscule in comparison to the emissions resulting from and enabled by the matters on which Slaughter and May advises.”

A spokeswoman for Slaughter and May said it “values engaging with a range of perspectives on what are complex issues”.

LAR’s actions started in May with Allen & Overy. In addition to letters, members have been regularly standing outside the firm’s London office to hand out leaflets and discuss the issue with staff arriving for work “in a non-confrontational manner”.

Allen & Overy has not replied to two letters sent to senior partner Wim Dejonghe and managing partner Gareth Price and LAR said that, if this continued, we will be taking steps to escalate our actions”. A spokeswoman declined to expand on what these could be.

Clifford Chance and Freshfields have also not replied to letters from LAR, with Linklaters set to be the next target.

The Jones Day action was drawing attention to Greenpeace France, Friends of the Earth France and Notre Affairs à Tous, with ClientEarth as intervener, taking TotalEnergies, represented by Jones Day, to court in France to hold Total accountable over claims of greenwashing.

While Total claims that it will be carbon neutral by 2050, it is also the majority shareholder in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline project, a 900-mile heated oil pipeline through Uganda and Tanzania that opponents describe as “colonial ecocide”.

Campaigners have targeted insurers and banks in London to stop them financing the project and LAR is now doing the same with law firms.

In a statement, it said: “Law firms are crucial for these deals as well and we could like to see the law firms play their part in averting climate and ecological collapse by ceasing to represent clients involved in fossil fuel projects. We therefore call on Jones Day to drop Total.”

Jones Day did not respond to a request for comment.

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