UK Law Society Is Okay with Turning Clients Down Over Emissions

The Law Society, the professional body representing solicitors in England and Wales, has issued milestone climate change guidance for law firms. 

The new guidance states that law firms may decline to act for polluting clients whose activities obstruct progress towards net-zero emissions, or whose values conflict with the firm’s stance on climate change. It also urges law firms to assess the impact of their climate change stance on staff, particularly given the importance placed on this issue by young lawyers and students seeking employment. 

The guidance suggests that law firms may wish to accommodate employees who identify climate change commitment as a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act. It also provides advice on avoiding accusations of “greenwashing” and taking into account the physical and legal risks posed by climate change. 

The Law Society’s 29-page guidance note, “The Impact of Climate Change on Solicitors,” follows its 2021 Climate Change Resolution, which pledged to provide the legal profession with guidance on considering climate change when providing legal services. The guidance also aims to help solicitors grapple with their “advised” emissions, a significant source of climate impact for lawyers.

Green law group ClientEarth welcomed the guidance as “much-needed” to help law firms consider the impact of their work on the climate crisis and the implications of the climate crisis for their work. 

The City of London Law Society described the guidance as a reference point for solicitors looking to understand the legal profession’s collective response to climate change. 

Law firms are increasingly being scrutinized for their climate credentials, including by the environmental lobby and US senators concerned that ESG practices could breach antitrust laws by restricting the supply of fossil fuels.

Lubna Shuja, president of the Law Society, urged solicitors to pre-empt climate legal risks and ensure they can continue to advise clients competently and compliantly. 

“The effects of climate change – even on legal practices – are wide-ranging and constantly evolving. Solicitors should be aware of this changing landscape and its potential impact upon their organizations, as well as on the legal advice they provide,” Shuja said.

“We encourage solicitors to take the initiative to understand and pre-empt the climate legal risks with the help of our guidance. This will ensure they can continue to run their businesses and advise their clients competently and compliantly.”

The guidance clarifies that solicitors are not bound by the same “cab rank rule” as barristers and have wide discretion over accepting clients or instructions.

Information for this story was found via the Law Society, and the sources and companies mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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