It’s Time to Hold Law Firms Accountable for Their Role in Climate Change

For too long, law firms have been given carte blanche to contribute to the climate crisis: championing the fossil fuel industry, filing the necessary paperwork for carbon-emitting projects, and conducting court cases against indigenous and frontline communities. With more than 1,500 attorneys in offices around the world, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP is recognized as one of the premier law firms in the United States. Like many of its competitors, Gibson Dunn benefits from quashing class action lawsuits and union campaigns, keeping shareholders from reforming company practices, keeping debtors from getting their day in court, and keeping US companies from accountability for their actions abroad and from regulation at home protect domestic. But even by the standards of the legal industry, Gibson Dunn’s behavior is notorious. In 2007 the The Montana Supreme Court rebuked the firm for involvement in “actual malice” and “legal brawl” and a Delaware judge recently described its pre-trial practices as “fraud”.

But Gibson Dunn’s unethical behavior goes further. It spent more than a decade Defending Chevron in a lawsuit brought by indigenous communities whose homes were poisoned by an oil spill in Ecuador. As Ecuadorian courts to these indigenous communities a $9.5 billion judgment, in which Gibson Dunn was involved tip over This ruling by a pro-business US court led to the indictment of Steven Donziger, a human rights lawyer representing the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. Gibson Dunn’s involvement in the Chevron saga is a chilling example of the lengths the company is willing to go to to represent the fossil fuel industry and silence anyone who gets in its way.

And Gibson Dunn’s record on climate change is uncompromisingly terrible. Law Students for Climate Accountability (LSCA), an organization that rates law firms on their environmental activities, gave the firm an F this year, the lowest possible score. In addition to his involvement in dozens of cases fueling climate change, Gibson Dunn has advocated for and represented the company behind Koch Industries Dakota Access pipeline, a project that would violate the rights of indigenous people while transporting oil that we cannot afford to burn. (In another affront to local sovereignty, Gibson Dunn represented those trying to overthrow them Indian Child Welfare Act). Over the past decade, the company has generated nearly $27 billion in revenue from fossil fuels and energy with no sign of slowing down, even as the need to stop and reverse carbon emissions grows more urgent.

In April 2021, dozens of law student organizations signed up Letter by LSCA asking Gibson Dunn to change its contract standards. Following Gibson Dunn’s refusal to deal with this petition, in December 2021, LSCA announced a boycott so that individual students can also announce that they are #DoneWithDunn. Meanwhile, Gibson Dunn struggles to maintain a liberal, even progressive, image: one of the firm’s star litigators is vocally anti-Trump, despite his vehement defense of oil and gas companies. Debt-ridden law students are drawn to high wages, diversity initiatives and pro bono opportunities, but may not be aware that their first job assignments may include lifting Covid eviction moratoriums or defending against toxic exposure lawsuits. However, increasing numbers of young workers are demanding that their potential employers step away from work, leading to an environmental and social disaster.

When it comes to the climate crisis, business as usual will not suffice, and nowhere is that more true than in the legal profession. Gibson Dunn is just one of them many law firms with a terrible track record on climate change, yet this LSCA boycott is a critical step in forcing Big Law to take responsibility for how it normalizes, entrenches, and toughens Big Carbon’s work that protects our planet and its people endangered. In doing so, we join a movement that is already changing the norms in advertising agencies, financial institutions and tech companies, all of which are places where they are organizing to end profit from carbon extraction.

The economic and social incentives for individual workers to transform their companies and even entire industries is no easy task. But that is exactly what is being asked of our generation. Law firms are not pioneers in a just transition to renewable energy; they will only do it if we place their feet squarely on the fires they are kindling.


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