Solicitor launches climate-conscious law firm for the future

Domb: We’re a generation that can’t be bought

A solicitor has launched what he intends one day to be a full-service law firm that practises every aspect of the law through the lens of addressing climate change.

Gen-R Law went live at the beginning of March, emphasising “planet before PEP”, with Generation-R an imagined name for children who will be born in the year 2100.

Founder Joshua Domb practised as a white-collar crime lawyer in the City for seven years before taking a year out travelling with his wife, having “got the climate change bug”.

He told Legal Futures: “It got to the point that climate change was keeping me awake at night. As much as I loved being a white-collar crime lawyer, I knew that nothing I was doing was having a direct effect on climate change…

“We’re a generation that can’t be bought. We’re more afraid of the impact of climate change than earning £20,000 less in firm A than firm B. We want purpose, not just a paycheque.”

Mr Domb set up the firm having found there was no full-service law firm that was addressing these issues in a mission-driven way, where he could obtain the climate-change focused training he was looking for.

“I think there has been something of a failure, as an industry, for us to be ready to support our clients through the biggest challenge of our time. All companies are being impacted by climate change narrowly and ESG [environmental, social, governance] more generally. General counsel are increasingly finding themselves having to lead their businesses through these challenges, and they are looking to their external firms for support.

“Right now there is no comprehensive offering out there which can truly provide this holistic support on a genuinely cross practice basis.”

Further, many of the most established firms have a history of doing extensive work for clients whose activities have had a particularly significant impact in driving the climate crisis. “Whilst, in fairness, there is much to say in defence of firms that have historically engaged in that work, to many who are deeply concerned about climate change, these firms are, at the very least, morally conflicted from now trying to lead on these issues.”

Mr Domb acknowledged that this was a long-term project. “If I had something that looked like a full-service law firm in 10 years, I’d be very pleased. Anything faster than that would be very exciting.”

He has found no other law firm like it, the closest being Hong Kong firm Ben McQuhae & Co. Set up by an English solicitor, it describes itself as “a commercial law firm established for one purpose – to apply our legal expertise to support clients who are contributing to the global imperative of building a sustainable future”.

The initial focus of Gen-R Law’s work is advising on ESG, with a particular emphasis on training, sustainability reporting and greenwashing, compliance, and investigations with an environmental or social component.

“One of the earliest challenges was understanding how the legal skills that I already had could be used in this context. A key lightbulb moment was realising that, when it comes to ESG, 80% of the work is governance. I’ve been doing that work for seven years,” he explained.

“Policies, procedures, board training, risk assessments, reviewing supply chains and so on – I quickly realised how many of the skills I had were relevant. The exciting challenge has then been to upskill myself on the environmental and social components of ESG.”

The vision, though, is a full-service law firm with climate change concern shot through it. “Wherever legal practice and climate change intersect, is where I hope Gen-R Law will one day be the go-to firm. Think about ESG due diligence as part of M&A transactions, establishing ESG funds, integrating ESG considerations into employment contracts or employee handbooks or developing net-zero real estate, for example. The number of intersections are vast, and growing daily” he said.

Mr Domb said there were hundreds of lawyers who were already doing this work. “Having spoken with dozens of these excellent lawyers, I can confidently say that they generally feel quite frustrated. For the most part, the firms that they are working at don’t take the issue of climate change as seriously as they would like.

“One of the challenges that they therefore have is that they might not have counterparts across other practice groups who can help them advise clients on these issues, which inherently sit across many areas of traditional legal practice.

“They also can’t speak freely about many of these topics because of conflicts, which is a challenge that many law firms are currently considering.”

He hopes that, by creating a truly mission aligned law firm, Gen-R Law would give lawyers like these somewhere “to coalesce around”.

Mr Domb argues that climate change should be part of lawyers’ training and he plans to initially offer law students a platform to publish articles and in time work experience, internships and scholarships.

Gen-R Law also has a clear policy on accepting clients, assessing them by reference to “their stated ambitions in relation to climate change” and the evidence which demonstrates that this is a genuine commitment.

It will work on any matter for clients that clearly meet both criteria (‘category A’ clients) and on specific mandates with a climate positive impact for those that have the targets but “cannot yet adequately demonstrate that commitment in practice” (category B).

For category C clients – companies that have not yet committed to sufficiently ambitious targets but recognise that they need support to embark on the journey – Gen-R would act only on matters such as initial training, support in setting appropriately ambitious targets, impact assessments and the development of initial policies and frameworks.

“By the conclusion of these mandates, we would generally hope that clients would have committed to a suitably ambitious climate positive goal, at which point we would upgrade them to category B and act for them more broadly on climate positive mandates.”

Mr Domb has also committed to donating 10% of annual profits to environmental charities and causes and investing a further 10% in green-tech start-ups, which he hopes to support with a tailored set of dedicated services.

In addition, Gen-R offers pro-bono support to help develop climate-focused, re-wilding and conservation initiatives.

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