The Global Legal Post timeline: ESG and the law
How law firms and their clients are responding to the environmental, social and governance movement
As the environmental, social and governance (ESG) movement gains momentum, law firms have been positioning themselves to provide ESG advice to their clients while also getting their own houses in order. Clients, meanwhile, having been ramping up pressure on law firms to improve their records over a range of ESG-related factors.
In this timeline, which will be updated regularly, we track major developments in ESG and the law.
The ‘Navigating Deep Waters’ survey finds that 82% of compliance officers are concerned that ESG is not embedded in existing risk practices, while 78% reported a lack of ESG knowledge and skills. A further 57% are concerned about a lack of company-wide engagement with ESG issues. Only 42% said they have a mature ESG compliance programme in place.
London firm counsels Aristata on the first closing of its debut impact litigation fund that is designed to improve access to justice and finance claims across a range of sustainability issues.
New research from The City of London Socio-Economic Diversity Taskforce reveals 64% of senior leaders are from a family with a professional background, a markedly higher proportion than the general UK population (37%). Employees from a family with a professional background were also 43% more likely to be at a senior level than their working-class colleagues while more than one quarter (26%) of senior employees attended fee-paying schools - three times the national average of 7.5%.
Magic Circle firm hires BBC creative diversity head Nina Goswami in the newly-created head of inclusion position for its UK offices.
Eight US law firms including Reed Smith and Morgan Lewis and thirteen individual practice groups are named ‘inclusion champions’ by Diversity Lab for their commitment to improving diversity, equity and inclusion within their ranks in 2022.
New York firm hires Loretta Pearce following a year-long stint at Meta, parent company of Facebook, where she led the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) global talent management programs. In her new role, Pearce will have responsibility for Shearman & Sterling’s global D&I strategy.
Reed Smith launches ESG practice to advise on plethora of ‘regulations, principles, initiatives and reporting standards’
Firm launches a dedicated ESG practice to help clients navigate what it describes as ‘a persisting lack of global convergence on ESG regulations, principles, initiatives and reporting standards.
At least 15 Am Law 100 firms with offices in US states that have imposed abortion bans have so far said they will cover travel expenses for out-of-state medical care, according to Above The Law.
A majority of women working in the legal profession don’t believe they will see gender pay equality during their careers, according to a new study by the Next 100 Years project and pay disparity software provider Gapsquare.
The US firm announces new measures including a commitment to reduce its carbon emissions to net zero by 2035 and a 50% incremental increase of pro bono work each year and the introduction of a full supplier audit, as well as to provide ESG training across the firm.
Almost 400 law firms and large corporations in the US including Google and Apple make public pledges detailing the steps they will take to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal profession.
Alberts, who is based in CC’s London headquarters, spent a decade at Aon, including four as head of the firm’s workplace wellbeing solutions practice. As the first person to take on the non-executive role, Alberts will be tasked with creating and leading CC’s first global wellbeing strategy. The strategy will cover points of interaction at every stage between employees and the firm, including recruitment, training and promotions.
Allen & Overy, Slaughter and May, Ashurst, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Herbert Smith Freehills are backing the launch of a new black British civil rights group, the Black Equity Organisation (BEO). The BEO aims to promote economic, political and social equity for black communities in the UK to ensure equal opportunity for progress and prosperity.
German multinational chemical company BASF sets new diversity demands for the external counsel it works with globally. The programme expands on a North American-focused scheme launched back in 2016 by GC Matt Lepore and previous deputy GC for North America Sneha Desai to boost the number of women lawyers and lawyers from diverse backgrounds that the company engages.
Magic Circle firm introduces a global menopause policy and support package for employees who are directly or indirectly impacted by the menopause. The measures include: expanding the firm’s menopause support group globally to encourage people to talk openly about it; introducing an e-learning module for people across the firm with management or supervisory responsibilities; and creating a resources hub to support those experiencing the menopause, as well as those supporting a partner or family member.
Twenty-six firms complete an 18-month pilot with Diversity Lab to put in place measures to ensure that candidates for hiring opportunities, leadership roles, client pitches and partner promotions are made up of at least 30% women, underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, LGBTQ+ individuals and lawyers with disabilities.
Firm appoints London-based Uzma Hamid-Dizier as director of its environmental, social and governance agenda. The newly-created role’s responsibilities cover the firm’s D&I commitments, carbon emission reduction targets and its pro bono and collaborative partnerships with charities to combat climate change and improve social injustice.
The Miami-based firm hires a trio of energy and infrastructure lawyers from Hogan Lovells ahead of plans to open an office in Singapore, which will be its fourth in the region. The hires, initially set to be based in Tokyo, will focus on energy transition matters and ESG investments in the renewable power and infrastructure sectors.
US firm adds former New York City Bar diversity lead Deborah Martin Owens as its global director of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). Martin Owens joins the Houston-based firm after a little more than a year at US rival Sidley Austin, where she served as diversity director for the East Coast. She is based in New York.
London-based firm unveils new ‘Accelerate’ programme designed to help junior partners with people management skills and business development know-how so they can progress faster to equity partnership.
Research finds general counsel face growing challenges around balancing sustainability issues with the broader financial and operational health of their businesses. The study – Enterprise Values vs. Enterprise Value: Governance in an Era of Sustainable Transformation – is based on the findings from Lex Mundi’s recent General Counsel Summit in Munich.
Magic Circle firm hits its diversity target for partner promotions for the second year in a row, with women making up 11 of the 27 new partners. Freshfields’ diversity and inclusion programme calls for at least 40% of new partners to be female, this year hitting 41%, slightly fewer than the 50% who made the cut in 2021.
London firm promotes 17 women out of a total of 41 new partners in a promotions round that beats the firm’s diversity targets for a second year running. The 41% percent tally of women partners puts the firm ahead of its gender diversity target set two years ago for at least 40% of promoted partners to be women.
Macfarlanes promotes two women in an eight-strong partnership round as it concedes it has a ‘way to go’ in its drive to improve its diversity as measured against a new set of targets.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission issues its much-anticipated Proposed Rule on mandatory climate change disclosures. The Proposed Rule is a milestone in US climate regulation, and if enacted, would dramatically alter the disclosure landscape for US domestic and foreign issuers.
Flexible working and quotas are perceived as potent weapons in the drive to improve gender diversity, while unconscious bias training is regarded as the least effective initiative, according to a report by the International Bar Association and LexisNexis.
Clifford Chance and Hengeler Mueller are advising on the $2.6bn sale of Bayer’s pesticide unit Bayer Environmental Science Professional to UK private equity firm Cinven. CC is acting for key client Cinven while a team of lawyers from Hengeler Mueller is advising the German pharma giant on the deal, which is expected to close in the second half of this year.
King & Spalding’s Douglass Cassel, Peter Hood & Viren Mascarenhas explain the EC’s proposed EU law that would require a wide range of EU and non-EU companies to take steps to identify and address human rights and environmental harms and impose sanctions for non-compliance.
The UK firm has joined forces with boutique law firm Gunn Attorneys in Johannesburg to launch a local property practice and strengthen its environmental, social and governance capabilities in South Africa.
Aragon St-Charles joined the global firm in Tokyo as its first-ever global ESG strategy leader. The firm said St-Charles’ particular expertise in APAC would be ‘critical’ to giving it a unique perspective on the ESG challenges and opportunities in the region.
The 25-partner Milan practice became the first Italian law firm to sign up as an official partner of the Global Reporting Initiative, an ESG standards body. It also published a sustainability report and set up a team of lawyers and chartered accountants tasked with improving the firm’s ESG credentials and coordinating its advisory work in this increasingly influential field.
ESG disputes are set to dominate future disputes and thereby open the door for a broader role for litigation PR in managing them, according to a report by Byfield Consultancy. The report noted that litigation PR is becoming increasingly important in managing public and commercial perceptions, not least because ESG factors are increasingly being seen as a marker of good corporate citizenship.
The focus on ESG issues has never been greater for in-house legal teams. A flash survey of Luxury Law Alliance members showed that ESG will be their biggest priority this year. And while ESG issues are not new – in the past often bundled up under the guise of corporate social responsibility or sustainability – the spotlight has grown more intense, particularly amid heightened concerns around climate change.
The Australian independent hired banking and projects partner Ilona Millar from Bakers in a bid to intensify its focus on climate change and related ESG matters. Millar joined the firm’s Sydney headquarters after 14 years at Baker McKenzie, where she most recently served as head of the firm’s global climate change practice.
The 2022 Chief Legal Officers Survey, published by the Association of Corporate Counsel in partnership with Exterro, found that CLOs are being tasked with the oversight of more functional areas of the business in 2022 than in 2020, including ESG (plus 9%), public and corporate affairs (plus 5%), compliance (plus 4%) and risk (plus 4%).
Juan Costa Climent, a lawyer and former Spanish government minister, joined the London-based firm in the new role of sustainability policy director. Mishcon said Climent will combine his role as a lawyer at the firm with his position as an advisor to international companies and university lecturer.
DLA Piper has signed the construction of a UK solar farm by signing a corporate power purchase agreement (PPA) with NextEnergy Group — operator of UK solar investment and asset manager NextEnergy Capital — in a move it claims has made it the first law firm in the world to undertake a PPA.
The New York firm has hired Sarah Fortt and Betty Huber from Vinson & Elkins and Davis Polk to lead its environmental, social and governance practice in the US.
HSF’s chief executive, Justin D’Agostino, has agreed to co-chair the Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge steering committee in a bid to increase the proportion of women appointed as arbitrators. He has stepped in for senior BP in-house lawyer Samantha Bakstad in the role.
A Swiss startup founded by a pair of former general counsel at Zurich Insurance Group - Adrian Peyer and Yannick Hausmann - has created a platform to help GCs compare law firms’ environmental, social and governance performance.
The Looking Glass Report, published by UK law firm Clyde & Co and membership network Winmark, showed that 69% of the 140 surveyed global business leaders and general counsel have begun to view staffing issues and concerns over employee mental health as the number one risk factor that could impact their organisations.
The Milan-based firm has launched a specialist ESG group comprising lawyers from various practice areas to advise companies on matters such as environmental law, human capital management, corporate governance and sustainable finance. It will also support corporates with their ESG goals and carbon reduction targets.
The US top 20 firm has partnered with Tech Nation's Libra, a growth programme designed to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the UK tech sector. Cooley lawyers will offer practical guidance on securing institutional investments to the 30 seed or pre-seed companies that make up Libra’s first cohort.
Simon Maynard, a London-based senior associate at King & Spalding, and Todd Weiler, a veteran independent arbitrator and academic based in Toronto, are set to co-chair the International Chamber of Commerce’s new task force on disability inclusion and international arbitration.
The Looking Glass Report, published by UK law firm Clyde & Co and membership network Winmark, showed that 69% of the surveyed global business leaders and general counsel have begun to view staffing issues and concerns over employee mental health as the number one risk factor that could impact their organisations.
Magic Circle firm names five climate-focused startups joining fifth cohort of its technology entrepreneurs programme, Fast Forward, in the latest example of a law firm leveraging its tech programmes to zero in on the ESG movement currently taking centre stage in the legal profession.
Baker McKenzie survey of 900 employment leaders in global organisations across EMEA, Asia Pacific and the US finds that organisations are struggling to make progress on diversity and inclusion despite the increased focus on issues around gender imbalance and other underrepresented groups.
The British Virgin Islands International Arbitration Centre launches the latest version of its arbitration rules, which include new measures aimed at boosting sustainability. The updated rules, which were showcased at BVI Arbitration Week earlier this month, came into force on 16 November.
Top 40 UK firm RPC begins offering technology companies with a focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues up to £100,000 worth of legal advice as part of a new accelerator programme, RPC Tectonic.
A&O announces plans to move its London headquarters to offices being constructed at 2 Broadgate in the City of London that will allow it to significantly reduce its floor space and more easily meet its sustainability targets.
Sustainability expert Ulysses Smith joins Debevoise’s Manhattan headquarters in a newly-created role that will see him focus on advising clients on legal, regulatory and business matters in order to assist them in keeping up with the dynamic ESG landscape.
Magic Circle firm expands its scholarship programme for students from disadvantaged and racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds across seven offices in continental Europe after successfully piloting the scheme at its London headquarters.
Top 20 UK law firm Ashurst forms an alliance with Aurecon, an Australian company offering design, engineering and advisory services. The alliance, which both firms believe to be an industry first, offers integrated risk consulting, technical and legal expertise for clients facing a range of challenges including the transition to net zero.
A study by Landmark Information reveals more than half of law firms say they need to ramp up environmental, social and governance (ESG) services to help companies achieve their ESG goals. According to the survey data, some 55% of law firm respondents need to enhance their ESG capabilities and resources, while only about a third of respondents are able to meet the increased demand for ESG-related advice.
Diversity lab launches the latest version of its OnRamp fellowship programme to help bring 200 women lawyers back into the legal profession by 2025 in a bid to reverse the number of women who have left the workforce in the last few years. Law firms including Clifford Chance, Norton Rose Fulbright and Sidley Austin and corporates such as Amazon and Microsoft have signed up to the programme, which will offer one-year paid fellowships to successful candidates, providing a structured way back into the profession.
The UK's five Magic Circle law firms join forces with three other leading practices to launch an initiative to tackle the underrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in the UK legal profession. The collective’s plans and strategies are led by the diversity and inclusion leads from each of the eight founding firms, while a separate leadership group made up of senior-level partners steers their respective firms' commitment to the group’s guiding principles.
Barbara Kolsun, profession of practice at Benjamin N Cardozo School of Law and director of its Fashion, Arts, Media and Entertainment (FAME) Law Center, weighs in on the luxury sector’s challenges and opportunities and the secret to success as a fashion lawyer.
Top 40 UK firm Mishcon de Reya advises a consortium of environmental groups on a 'landmark' complaint before the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) alleging UK power company Drax Group is making misleading statements about its green credentials.
Goodwin Procter hires capital markets partner Ariel White-Tsimikalis from Bryan Cave Leighton Paiser (BCLP) in London in a bid to beef up its team of IPO-focused lawyers to represent technology and life sciences clients. The move is the latest move to come out of Boston-based Goodwin’s heavy investment in its life science capability over the past year, as it gears up for what it predicts to be a wave of fresh IPO activity in the sector in both the UK and the US.
DLA Piper’s Brazil affiliate, Campos Mello Advogados (CMA), hires a five-lawyer team from Mayer Brown’s associate Brazil firm, Tauil & Chequer Advogados, to boost its oil and gas, maritime, environmental, litigation and arbitration offerings in response to growing client demand for expertise in the energy sector.
AmLaw 200 firm Greenspoon Marder has formed an affiliate specialising in ESG to advise public and private companies as well as investment firms on their ESG-related operations. The Florida firm’s Value(s) Management and Investing group assists companies and firms in the investment space to benefit from how they manage sustainability-related operations, communication, risk management and assurance processes as well as capital allocation and attraction decisions.
Linklaters becomes a strategic partner on SoftBank’s Vision Fund Emerge 2021 programme, intended to promote diversity in tech by supporting underrepresented startup founders. The Japanese conglomerate’s Vision Fund is the world’s largest tech investor, with over $100bn in capital, and investments ranging from early-stage startups to established giants like Uber and ByteDance
Mayer Brown ceases its work advising the University of Hong Kong on the removal of a statue commemorating pro-democracy protesters killed during the Tiananmen Square massacre. News of Mayer Brown's role in seeking the statue's removal sparked an open letter from dozens of NGOs across the world calling on the firm to withdraw its representation.
Hundreds of Canadian lawyers sign an open letter published by Lawyers for Climate Justice (L4CL) urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the incoming minister of justice and attorney general to protect Canadian citizens from the destabilising effects climate change poses to their fundamental rights by reviewing "all federal statutes and forthcoming bills through a climate justice lens and...ensure that vulnerable populations are meaningfully protected".
General counsel at 27 leading US companies pledged to ask law firms they instruct to use a new scorecard measuring the effectiveness of their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies. The Washington DC-based Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) says the initiative marks the first step in establishing a benchmark ‘to better understand minimum standards to evaluate law firms’ DEI efforts’.
FTI Consulting’s 2021 Resilience Barometer reveals 80% of surveyed companies believe they need to fundamentally alter their business models in order to restore competitiveness in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with 97% of respondents actively investing in preparation for future crises, including the incorporation of artificial intelligence and analytics to mitigate risk. The top three investigation worries — identified by a third of respondents as areas of concern — were business conduct and the treatment of customers, sustainability and ESG practices, and relationships with public bodies and government contracts.
All 118 law firms participating in the latest round of Diversity Lab’s Mansfield programme achieved certification, a first since the programme began in 2017. The full certifications were awarded to the firms following a 12-month collaboration with Diversity Lab in a year when the UK-based organisation was concerned participating firms would push diversity and inclusion measures to the wayside as a result of the extra resources required to stave off the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic
Longtime Kirkland & Ellis restructuring partner Jon Henes launches C Street Advisory Group, a diversity and inclusion-focused strategic consultancy backed by Antara Capital, a Blackstone-backed multi-billion-dollar investment fund that focuses on distressed debt and special purpose acquisition vehicles. C Street’s goal is to ‘ensure alignment of the expectations of key stakeholders and calls for diversity, equity, and inclusion’, the firm said in a statement at the time.
Top Irish firm William Fry launches a service for senior lawyers to work for the firm on a fully flexible basis and a resourcing agency that will place external lawyers with its clients temporarily, similar to the virtual model that has been pioneered by firms including Keystone Law and gunnercooke in the UK and US outfit Rimon. The William Fry Connect contract allows senior outside lawyers who match its standards to practise under its banner on a flexible 'pay-as-you-work' basis.
Hogan Lovells lawyers recall their experiences working with ‘activist, artist and producer’ Shannon Galpin and a 150-strong legal team working across nine time zones in an effort to secure evacuation of elite female athletes from Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in August.
Linklaters becomes the latest large law firm to pledge its support for reducing the environmental impacts associated with the international arbitration community by signing the Green Pledge, an initiative developed by the Campaign for Green Arbitrations. It joins rivals Allen & Overy and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer to commit to reducing its environmental impact through cutting necessary arbitration-related travel and using suppliers and service providers who are committed to reducing their environmental footprint, where possible.
Matheson appointed Niamh Counihan as its first pro bono partner in what appears to be a first for the legal market. Counihan splits her time evenly between leading Matheson’s pro bono legal activities and continuing in her role as the firm’s director of legal and regulatory affairs.
Global corporations are failing to meet their diversity and inclusion goals due to a lack of collaboration, consistency and action across organisations, exposing them to potential compliance issues, according to a report by Baker McKenzie and Howlett Brown.
A group of leading law firms including Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, HFW and Simmons & Simmons sign up to the Greener Litigation Pledge, a commitment launched by Mishcon de Reya that commits to lessen the environmental impact of dispute resolution.
Linklaters outlines plans to significantly cut its carbon emissions over the next 10 years as part of an effort to support the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement on climate change. By 2030 the firm pledges to reduce its ‘Scope 1&2’ emissions – primarily related to energy use – by 70% and its ‘Scope 3’ emissions – which are primarily related to the purchase of goods, services and travel, by 50%.
Italian firm BonelliErede refreshes its governance structure, appointing three women to its board as it looks to improve its gender balance at the senior level. The changes coincide with the firm’s introduction of a 'pink quota', a requirement that will ensure the presence of at least one woman serving on its board.
Nokia’s legal team launches an equity, inclusion and diversity (E,I&D) scorecard system to assess its six panel law firms. As part of the initiative, it will score its panel firms quarterly and annually in order to determine whether they have taken steps to implement effective E,I&D strategies.
HFW unveils a new ESG strategy led by the firm’s first sustainability partner, Giles Kavanagh. The strategy encompasses a series of targets relating to advising clients on their own ESG goals, as well as ensuring a reduction in environmental impact in its physical locations and promoting diversity and inclusion throughout its workforce.
Vodafone's high-profile GC Rosemary Martin unveils a refreshed global legal advice panel, selecting firms based on a shared commitment to promoting diversity targets and ESG best practice. ‘At Vodafone, we aim to build a digital society that enhances socio-economic progress, embraces everyone and does not come at the cost of our planet,’ she argues. ‘Our purpose is now very much at the core of everything that we do and I am pleased this now extends to our panel of legal service providers.’
Dublin firm launches an ESG advisory group, laying claim to be one of the first Irish firms to establish a dedicated sustainability-focused team. The group will be led by the Dublin firm’s energy, natural resources, utilities and infrastructure practice head Garret Farrelly, who will be supported by a cross-practice team of 12 partners.
UK firm launches dedicated ESG practice led by London-based energy partner Silke Goldberg. The new practice area builds on more than three decades of experience advising clients on ESG-related issues across the firm’s existing practice groups.
The San Francisco giant brings on board ESG specialist Ashley Walter as a partner from Fenwick & West. It believes he will be the first partner in the US with a near-exclusive focus on advising clients on ESG matters.
Ben McQuhae's new firm will be focused entirely on sustainability and innovation. "We will choose the work we do, and do not do, by reference to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We will assess our mandates and measure our impact against the SDGs,” he said.
The leading Singapore firm launches a sustainability practice led by banking and finance practice partner Lee Weilin and supported by a multi-disciplinary team of lawyers across the firm, including specialists in infrastructure, M&A, trade and environmental law.
The beverage giant unveils a series of diversity targets for its US advisers with the threat that their ability to meet them will be a ‘significant factor’ in determining whether they make its first-ever preferred panel of law firms in 18 months' time. Unveiled by general counsel Bradley Gayton, the guidelines stipulate that firms that fail to meet targets for new matters over two quarters will be levied a non-refundable 30% reduction in their fees from then on until they achieve compliance.
The UK Magic Circle firm sets up an ESG taskforce led by senior partner Jeroen Ouwehand to boost its client work in the field as well as its own sustainability efforts. It is made up of 20 members drawn from across the firm and will oversee the work of more than 400 lawyers and senior personnel already tackling aspects of ESG, according to the firm.
HSF unveils a series of regional people forums to improve the ability of employees to help shape the firm's strategy. They are a ‘key initiative’ of a new People & Culture Advisory Board, which was established in June with a mission ‘to reinforce a culture of engagement, ambition and high performance’.
Ford unveils a four-year law academy programme that aims to boost the number of black students entering the law. It kicks off at the Henry Ford Academy high school in Detroit and will be rolled out in 2021 at another district school, the University Preparatory Academy High School, with the aim of it becoming a nationwide programme.
“Our clients are at differing stages of their sustainability journeys and we want to do all we can to help them achieve their ESG goals given our own depth of experience,” says Paris-based adviser to the luxury sector Alyssa Auberger as she takes up her new role.
The leaders of a host of law firms from across the globe back a United Nations statement on co-operation in support of sustainable development goals. They include Baker McKenzie chief executive Milton Cheng, Linklaters senior partner Charlie Jacobs and Justin D’Agostino, Herbert Smith Freehills’ chief executive.
The firm is among several in 2020 to publish diversity and inclusion targets, regarded as a key requirement of any D&I programme. This includes a commitment to meet minority ethnic targets in the UK and the US, aiming for 15% of new partners and 30% of senior associates and business professionals by 2025.
The launch of the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance springs from the pledges to take action by business law firm leaders on behalf of their firms that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. ‘Lawyers and law firms are uniquely positioned to analyse and advocate to change laws and policies that encourage, perpetuate or allow racial injustice,’ the charter states.
The Model Statute for Proceedings Challenging Government Failure to Act on Climate Change is launched in London by the International Bar Association's (IBA’s) Climate Change Justice and Human Rights Task Force. It provides judges, policy makers and legislatures with a ready-made legal framework to make it easier for citizens to take climate change-related action against their governments in the courts, a process the taskforce says is currently fraught with difficulty.
Hong Kong-based Anna-Marie Slot, who heads up the firm’s high-yield practice, is tasked with helping clients ‘navigate the strategic challenges and opportunities of regional and multi-jurisdictional sustainability issues’. She will work with London-based strategic director Dave Rome to help both the firm and its clients improve sustainability.