Yale Law Students are urging the top 100 law firms to rethink their work on climate change issues or lose upcoming grads as employees

It’s not just Big Oil being charged with burning up the planet. 

Some law students from Yale Law School are calling out many of the nation’s top 100 law firms, saying that they too are worsening climate change by their actions. 

They’ve written a report, one that includes a ranking of how law firms behave in this regard. It reads in part: “The 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard is the first to detail the scale of top law firms’ role in the climate crisis. Using the best data available, the 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard analyzes litigation, transactional and lobbying work conducted by the 2020 Vault Law 100 law firms — the 100 most prestigious law firms in the United States — from 2015 to 2019. Each firm receives an overall Climate Score reflecting its contribution to the climate crisis based on the data in these three categories.” 

The 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard is the brainchild of students Tim Hirschel-Burns, Alisa White, Karen Anderson, Camila Bustos, Lexi Smith, Scott Stern and Rachael Stryer. They call themselves, Law Students for Climate Accountability.

“This report should serve as a wake-up call for law firms to stop lending their services to the fossil fuel industry — and instead use their skills and power to fight climate change,” the report charges. 

The Yale Daily News interviewed students, including Hirschel-Burns, who told the student paper that law firms have chosen a side, and they’re placing themselves on the wrong side of history.

“While there certainly are differences among the top 100 firms, the firms that are getting F’s and D’s are not firms that should be able to come to law schools and pitch themselves as socially-responsible actors.”

Hirschel-Burns said part of the reason Law Students for Climate Accountability published the scorecard was to provide law students with more information about firms they may consider working for. Most Yale law students have a measure of flexibility as to which firm they join — they are Yale grads, after all — and they should think about joining a firm that aligns with their values. 

“It shouldn’t be difficult for law students to find an ethical law firm to work for,” Hirschel-Burns said.

Law Students for Climate Accountability started protesting against the nation’s 10th ranked law firm — Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison — for its ties to ExxonMobil earlier this year. 

Now, they’re demanding three changes, according to the report. First, that firms stop taking on any new fossil fuel clients. Second, that firms phase out their existing fossil fuel work by 2025. Finally, it demands that firms engage in positive work to address the climate crisis.

“To be on the right side of history, it is no longer enough for law firms to green their offices,” law professor Douglas Kysar wrote to the Yale Daily News. “They must green their work.”


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