London law firms facilitated £1.48 trillion in fossil fuel projects between 2018-2022, more than two and a half times the amount facilitated for the renewable energy industry, a new report has found.
The US-based Law Students for Climate Accountability (LSCA), along with law students from the UK and Ireland, analysed the UK legal sector’s involvement with the fossil fuel industry and identified 55 firms that had each facilitated at least £1 billion in fossil fuel transactions over the last five years.
Five firms, which the LSCA called “the Magic Circle”, made up almost 20% of the total fossil fuel transactional work, amounting to more than £285 billion, LSCA said.
They are Clifford Chance, Allen and Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May.
Fatima Aziz, a law student at the University of Bristol and one of the authors, said: “The report makes clear that London’s legal industry is deeply entangled with fossil fuel companies.
“I shouldn’t have to endanger my own future in order to become a lawyer and I hope to be part of forging a climate-just profession.”
In March, more than 100 lawyers announced a declaration of conscience and said they would refuse to represent fossil fuel clients or prosecute climate protesters.
Criminal barristers criticised the group, called Lawyers Are Responsible, for abandoning the “cab rank rule”, which states that lawyers must take on a case as long as they are free to do so and regardless of their personal opinions.
Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project and one of the declaration of conscience signatories, said: “The climate crisis confronts us all with a simple choice: will you contribute through your work to the destruction of the planet?
“This is a proper question to ask of lawyers. And the generations to come, who must live on the planet we are slowly destroying, are entitled to answers. I applaud this report.”
The report’s authors hope to encourage more lawyers to renounce working on behalf of fossil fuel companies.
This morning, we launched a first-of-its-kind report exploring the role of the UK legal industry in the climate crisis—and what lawyers and law students can do to help transform the profession. 🧵 on “The Carbon Circle” reporthttps://t.co/i8bFdtd9RE
— Law Students for Climate Accountability (@Ls4Ca) May 10, 2023
Guidance published in April by the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, says solicitors are able to turn down clients on the basis of climate goals.
It states: “Some solicitors may also choose to decline to advise on matters that are incompatible with the 1.5C goal, or for clients actively working against that goal if it conflicts with your values or your firm’s stated objectives.”
President of the Law Society Lubna Shuja said: “The legal profession has already taken, and continues to take, proactive steps in relation to the climate change crisis.
“Lawyers can play an important role in advising heavy-emitting clients to help them transition to net zero. This is critical if the Government is to reach its legislative target of net zero by 2050.
“As well as the efforts that many law firms are making to address climate change issues, they have engaged actively and positively with the Law Society’s climate change work.
“This includes our recently released climate change guidance which sets out how solicitors and law firms can continue to be at the forefront of responding to the challenges of climate change.”