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Harvard Law Students Protest Paul Weiss Over ExxonMobil Work (1)

Jan. 16, 2020, 7:38 PMUpdated: Jan. 16, 2020, 8:49 PM

A group of Harvard Law School students disrupted a first-year recruitment reception hosted by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison over the firm’s representations of ExxonMobil.

Students at a reception on Wednesday night carried a banner reading "#DropExxon” and sang protest anthems, including “Which Side Are You On?” according to a YouTube video.

“We are here tonight because this is a do or die moment in human history,” shouted one student, echoed by the line of other protesters. “We have just a few years left to address the climate crisis. That means stopping corporate polluters.”

An ExxonMobil spokesman referred questions to Paul Weiss. Firm chairman Brad Karp said in a statement that Paul Weiss is proud of the work it does on behalf of a wide range of commercial and pro bono clients, including its recent defense of the fossil fuel giant.

“Paul Weiss is committed to free speech and debate, just as we are committed to the principle that we represent our clients and safeguard the rule of law zealously and to the best of our abilities,” said Karp.

Paul Weiss notes on its website that it recently won a “complete defense verdict” on behalf of ExxonMobil in New York state court after investors claimed the company had persistently misled them about the growing risks of climate change to its business.

A New York State Supreme Court judge rejected the state attorney general’s claims that ExxonMobil’s disclosures “were misleading or that any alleged misrepresentations were material to investors or analysts,” Paul Weiss notes.

In addition to the New York case, Paul Weiss is representing ExxonMobil in securities litigation in Massachusetts, as well as about a dozen climate liability cases brought by local governments across the country that are seeking to hold major oil companies responsible for their contributions to climate change.

Student climate protest group spokesman Kurt Walters said Paul Weiss recruiters “were fairly shocked to see this type of action” at the Harvard event.

“It’s often said that law students are some of the most cautious people around, since our reputations are established right away,” Amy Frieder, a first-year law student at Harvard, said in a statement from the protest group.

“But we’re here today, standing up and taking this risk because we know we can’t address the climate crisis without dismantling the institutions that shield the fossil fuel industry from accountability for the harm they’ve caused,” said Frieder. “And as the future lawyers Paul Weiss depends on to recruit, we believe we are actually in a position to do something about it.”

The as-of-yet unnamed climate protest group is not connected to the People’s Parity Project, a student-led group working to eliminate discrimination in the legal profession, said Walters. The “PPP” has campaigned against arbitration agreements at law firms since 2018.

—With Ellen M. Gilmer

(Fourth, fifth and sixth grafs revised to include new quote from Paul Weiss Chairman Brad Karp.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at sskolnik@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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