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Fresh climate guide for England-and-Wales lawyers

19 Apr 2023 / environment Print

‘Milestone’ guidance for England-and-Wales lawyers

The Law Society of England and Wales has issued what it has described as “milestone” guidance on how climate-change considerations can impact solicitors.

According to the Law Society Gazette of England and Wales, the guidance says that law firms can refuse to act for polluters, if the client’s activities inhibit progress toward net zero or otherwise conflict with the firm’s own ‘values’ on climate change.

“Individual solicitors and firms can accept or decline to represent clients as a basic regulatory fact, and we present this neutrally to the profession as something they can consider in a climate-change context,” a spokesperson for the solicitors’ body told the Gazette.

Access to justice

“We recognise the importance of access to justice being available to everyone, and that lawyers can play an important role in advising heavy-emitting clients to help them transition to net zero,” the spokesperson stated.

The society also advises practices to assess the impact on staff of their own stance on climate change, especially as this is increasingly important for young lawyers and students choosing where to work.

Law firms may want to consider accommodating employees who identify commitment to the climate as a “recognised philosophical belief” – and therefore a protected characteristic – under British equality legislation.

Row among barristers

The Gazette says that the new guidance, which has been in preparation for months, is timely, coming after a row erupted among British barristers last month.

The dispute came after leading barristers signed a declaration saying that they would not prosecute peaceful climate protesters, or act for companies pursuing fossil-fuel projects.

The Gazette points out that, for solicitors, there is no equivalent of the ‘cab-rank rule’, under which barristers must take a case they are qualified for, provided they are available.

Professional duties

The society’s 29-page guidance note, the Impact of Climate Change on Solicitors, follows its commitment to a climate-change resolution in 2021.

The resolution pledged to provide the profession with guidance on how to take climate change into consideration when providing legal services, and a call to action for law firms and solicitors.

The note provides guidance for solicitors and firms on avoiding accusations of ‘greenwashing’, and how climate-change physical and legal risks may be relevant to advice.

It also considers how climate-change considerations affect professional duties, and what to evaluate when accepting client instructions.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland