Mishcon leads law firms in global sustainability push

Libson: Looking for structural solutions

London law firm Mishcon de Reya has recruited five leading City practices to join it in a global initiative aimed at using the law to promote action on sustainability and climate change.

James Libson, managing partner of Mishcon, told Legal Futures that the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI) legal task force could only be accused of ‘greenwashing’ if it did not achieve anything.

Having recruited Clifford Chance, DLA Piper, Ashurst, Pinsent Masons and Taylor Wessing, Mr Libson, who chairs the task force, said he wanted law firms based outside the UK to join, including from the Global South.

He said the aim was to get “law firms working together on structural solutions” which would allow environmental activists to “be pointing in the same way as the big corporations” on some of the key issues in terms of governance and legislation.

“I hope we can create a space where we can talk together to effect real change.”

Mr Libson said an important feature of the SMI was to make sure that initiatives were manageable and “stuff is done, rather than just talk is done”.

One issue that could be tackled was how to get a common set of measurements on carbon reduction targets through “legislation that speaks a common language across jurisdictions”.

Another was the question of where responsibilities lay for environmental damage and how compensation should be measured.

“How can we create a fair measurement of where responsibility lies and enough visibility so that businesses understand the consequences of their actions and parties can get justice?”

King Charles III launched the SMI at Davos in January 2020, when he was Prince of Wales. The SMI is a network of global chief executives across different industries working together to build “sustainable economies that generate long-term value through the balanced integration of natural, social, human, and financial capital”.

Although the legal task force aimed to accelerate the transition to a net-zero world, Mr Libson said it would not be looking at how quickly individual law firms could get to net zero, which he described as the “easy bit” where there were “plenty of initiatives” already.

“This is the more difficult thing. We are looking at policy and whether there is a common point where big industry, government, conservationists and victims of environmental degradation can agree.”

Mr Libson said the task force would also not be looking at the ethical debate over whether lawyers should be acting for fossil fuel companies. Although Mischon did not have a significant energy practice, other firms did.

“If ‘Big Energy’ and ‘Big Law’ are not part of the solution, the solution will come a bit later.”

Nor would the task force be looking at the specifics of how different industries were regulated, as there were “plenty of places” for that.

“We want to step back and have discussions on solutions at a global level as part of a deeply thoughtful long-term process.”

Mr Libson said the idea for the legal task force came from an entrepreneur client of Mishcon who was “passionate” about sustainability.

There was no “legal strand” to the SMI, so he worked with the organisers to create one.

Mr Libson said the legal task force could only be accused of greenwashing if it did not achieve anything.

“These law firms are proud of what they are doing. They are not greenwashing. The world needs us to solve this kind of thing.”

The other members of the task force are Adrian Cartwright, senior partner of Clifford Chance; Simon Levine, global co-CEO and international managing partner of DLA Piper; Paul Jenkins, global CEO of Ashurst; Andrew Masraf, senior partner of Pinsent Masons; and Shane Gleghorn, global co-chair of Taylor Wessing.

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