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Law Students Fault Firms for ‘Climate Chaos’ in Energy Work (1)

Aug. 19, 2021, 10:01 AMUpdated: Aug. 19, 2021, 2:36 PM

The top 100 law firms handled $1.36 trillion in fossil fuel transactions from 2016 to 2020, a student law group said Thursday, even as many of them touted work on renewable energy.

Of the 100 firms, 88 did work “that worsened climate change,” Law Students for Climate Accountability said in a report. About 36 aided fossil fuel producers, receiving the group’s lowest “F” grade.

“Vault 100 firms that support the fossil fuel industry are as culpable as the industry itself for the climate chaos that we are witnessing,” said Catherine Rocchi, a third year Stanford Law School student and group member.

The report extends the group’s approach of reaching beyond energy companies to try to slow climate change. Earlier this year, students accused Gibson Dunn & Crutcher of “immense harm to the climate and marginalized communities, particularly indigenous communities” by work on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The students early last year criticized Paul Weiss for representing Exxon Mobil Corp. Their campaign, which targeted the firm’s campus recruiting, led to the founding of the group and its first scorecard, which gave Paul Weiss and Gibson Dunn a grade of “F.”

This time around the report singles out Allen & Overy and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison as being “particularly egregious” in work over the five years that the students from more than 50 schools examined.

Allen & Overy conducted more fossil fuel transactions than 75 firms combined, the students said. Paul Weiss litigated more fossil fuel cases than 60 firms combined, the group said.

“The fossil fuel industry cannot function without legal assistance,” Rocchi said. “But lawyers have a choice to be on the right side of history—to be part of the solution.”

An Allen & Overy spokesperson defended the firm’s work.

“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,” she said. “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.”

Three Vault 100 firms received an “A” grade from the student group. They are: Cooley; Schulte Roth & Zabel; and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

This year, the scorecard did not offset firm work on renewable projects against what it deemed as climate change work, said Aaron Regunburg, a spokesman for the student group. Several large firms, including Vinson and Elkins, Baker Botts, and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, have been public about increasing their involvement in renewable energy projects.

(Updated to include comment from Allen & Overy.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson at egolson1@gmail.com
To contact the editor on this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloombergindustry.com;
John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com