UK law firms score worst for transactions accelerating climate change

Climate change: Law firms under scrutiny

Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance have been named as the worst law firms for accelerating climate change through transactional work for the fossil fuel industry.

Hogan Lovells came second behind US firm Akin Gump in terms of money received for lobbying on behalf of the industry.

The 2021 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard, put together by US-based Law Students for Climate Accountability (LSCA), estimated that Allen & Overy completed transactions worth $125bn and Clifford Chance $124bn between 2016 and 2020.

Linklaters came sixth in the table for transactional work and Norton Rose Fulbright ninth.

Meanwhile, Hogan Lovells earned $5.3m by lobbying for the fossil fuel industry, putting the law firm in second place behind Akin Gump with $6.8m.

No UK law firms appeared in the table for litigation exacerbating climate change.

The following UK law firms were awarded an ‘F’ grade (the worst) for their overall contribution to climate change, through a mixture of transactional work, lobbying and litigation: Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Hogan Lovells, Linklaters and Norton Rose Fulbright.

‘D’ grades (second worst) were awarded to Dentons and DLA Piper and a ‘C’ grade to Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, while no UK firms obtained an A or B.

Cooley, Winson Sonsini and Schulte Roth & Zabel were the only firms to score an A.

Extinction Rebellion have been protesting in London this week, with law firms set to come under scrutiny in the coming days and weeks.

The LSCA said Allen & Overy was the legal adviser on more transactional work for the fossil fuel industry than 75 top 100 firms combined.

Instead of moving away from fossil fuels during the pandemic, the LSCA said the top law firms had “fought even harder to accelerate climate change”.

They said they had facilitated a “stunning” $1.36 trillion in fossil fuel transactions, increasing the total by $50bn from last year’s report.

The number of cases litigated on behalf of fossil fuel clients, rose from 275 to 358 and the number of F grades awarded in this year’s report grew by 10 to 36.

To achieve an F grade, firms must advise on eight or more cases exacerbating climate change, support over $20bn in fossil fuel transactions or receive over $2m for fossil fuel lobbying.

Turning to “promising trends”, the LSCA said there had been a slight decrease this year in the amount spent on lobbying, from $36.5m to $34.9m, and an increase in renewable energy transactions from $268bn to $347bn.

“But ultimately, while these figures are moving in the right direction, they remain woefully inadequate and are cold comfort to communities who bear the burden of both dangerous fossil fuel extraction and the worst consequences of climate change.

“Law firms cannot maintain reputations as socially responsible actors as long as they continue to support the destructive fossil fuel industry.”

An Allen & Overy spokeswoman responded: “We do more renewables work than any other law firm in the world by most key measures and top the league tables for solar and renewables work.

“We are a leading innovator on green bonds and have advised on hundreds of infrastructure projects across the world aimed at reducing carbon emissions, increasing efficient energy use, and otherwise driving sustainability.

“We have recently further increased our capacity in this area with the acquisition of a market-leading renewable energy practice in the US to help clients navigate the global energy transition.”

Susan Bright, global managing partner for diversity, inclusion and responsible business at Hogan Lovells, said: “We take our impact on the climate seriously in a number of ways. That includes our commercial work and our award-winning pro bono legal work including for the over 800 social enterprises we have advised in recent years on related issues.

“We are a signatory to UN Business Ambition for 1.5°C and Race to Zero and are committed to achieve net zero by 2030. We are also founder members of the Legal Sustainability Alliance.”

Adrian Walker, head of ESG [environmental, social and governance] at Hogan Lovells, added that the firm had supported “hundreds of companies” in advancing their ESG agendas across all areas represented by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

He said much of the work required stakeholders to “come together and strike a complex balance between challenging and interrelated sustainability agendas, such as climate change, environmental best practice, poverty and inclusiveness and ensuring a ‘just transition’ for all global interests.

“We believe that the multiple challenges here should not be shied away from.”

Clifford Chance was approach for comment.

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