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Law Students Group Wants Gibson Dunn Boycott Over Energy Work

Dec. 6, 2021, 10:48 AM

A group of law students is pushing a boycott of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher over the firm’s “work shielding corporate polluters from climate accountability.”

Law Students for Climate Accountability recently launched a public sign-on letter and a video announcement calling for the boycott. The group said Gibson Dunn’s legal tactics had caused “immense harm to the climate and frontline communities, particularly Indigenous communities.”

The group cited the firm’s “scorched earth” tactics on behalf of clients, like the Dakota Access pipeline and oil behemoth Chevron Corp. The law students said the firm’s actions resulted in “persecuting human rights lawyer Steven Donziger, whose imprisonment is a direct result of the firm’s unethical and bullying litigation strategies.”

Gibson Dunn had no immediate response to the boycott, which is aimed at encouraging law students to avoid working for the firm. It remains to be seen whether the move will have a noticeable impact on recruiting.

The group urged law students to take a firm’s environmental representation record into account when they choose an employer. Several students who are members of the group told Bloomberg Law that they are checking their choices against a climate change scorecard, issued in August, that ranks law firms by how much their representation has harmed the environment.

The scorecard found that Gibson Dunn conducted the second most anti-climate litigation of any law firm. Only Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison exceeded Gibson as the worst firm for litigation exacerbating climate change between 2016 and 2020, according to the group. Following behind Gibson were Latham & Watkins and Sidley Austin.

Representatives for those firms did not respond to requests for comment.

Third-year University of California, Davis law student Vivienne Pismarov said she had consulted the scorecard to figure out which firms were places she wanted to work after she graduates.

“I was very confused and couldn’t tell anything from the firm websites,” said Pismarov, who had previously worked at Earth Justice and at the National Resources Defense Council.

“Gibson Dunn had been on my list but looking at the scorecard changed it for me,” she said. “I wanted to work someplace that cares about the environment, but I’m also a first generation and I have law school debt.”

She chose a different major firm, Cooley, and will start there in the fall of 2022.

Some other student group members who spoke with Bloomberg Law said they have made similar choices, which could eventually amount to a slow-rolling boycott of firms with major fossil fuel clients. Another third-year student, who asked not to be named, at a top-ranked law school, said he struck Gibson Dunn and other firms tagged with poor environmental representation records from his list of possible employers.

“I felt that I could find a firm that provided what I was looking for (good compensation, good legal training and good reputation) without applying to the firms that contribute most to the climate crisis,” he said in an email.

Donziger Saga

Gibson Dunn has drawn particular ire for its work on the Dakota Access pipeline, which some Native Americans argued is a disruption of sacred Sioux land, and for its representation of Chevron in the long-running legal battle over damage to Ecuador from oil drilling. A $8.6 billion award for polluting the Amazon rainforest to farmers and indigenous people was later overturned by a U.S. judge.

The legal case has resulted in a bitter, years-long battle that saw Donziger found guilty on six counts of criminal contempt for refusing to obey U.S. court orders. A court ordered him to be disbarred in 2020. In October of this year, he turned himself into a federal prison in Connecticut to serve a six-month sentence on the contempt charges.

In its boycott announcement letter, the student group said: “Chevron has used Gibson Dunn to demonize Steven Donzinger” and “helped mastermind a wholly unprecedented campaign of coercion, bribery, and persecution against Mr. Donzinger.” The firm’s “extraordinary campaign to prevent indigenous Ecuadorians from receiving relief by attacking Mr. Donzinger,” the group said said, was a “dangerous escalation” of its legal tactics and “a tremendous threat to all future environmental plaintiffs and their advocates.”

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

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