Top 100 global firms’ fossil fuel-related deal work edges down, study finds

More than 40 firms rated ‘F’ in climate change scorecard, although renewable energy work increases sharply

Law firms also received less compensation for fossil fuel-related lobbying efforts Shutterstock

The world’s biggest law firms have been involved in fewer fossil fuel transactions over the past four years, according to the 2024 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard.

The annual report, which is produced by Law Students for Climate Accountability (LSCA), showed that fossil fuel-related transaction work between 2019 and 2023 decreased by $121bn to $2.89tr, a 4% decline compared to the 2018 to 2022 period.

The data also showed that firms received less in lobbying compensation during the 2019 to 2023 period, with estimated fees dropping by $1.4m to $32.97m, also a 4% decline. At the same time, firms increased work related to renewable energy transactions, supporting $878bn of deals – a 20% increase ($178bn).

The scorecard tracks firms that are ranked in the Vault 100 and is based on publicly available datasets from Bloomberg and IJGlobal, civic society databases and US court and transactional filings. This year, the assessment included major law firms in the UK and Ireland. However, the newly merged firm A&O Shearman was treated as two separate entities for the survey, alongside other caveats regarding the frequency of undertaking such work and the self-acknowledged complexities of defining relevant matters for inclusion.

The LSCA said it had actively engaged with law firms to discuss their environmental practices as part of a move towards dialogue seeking substantive changes.

“As we launch the scorecard, we are more committed than ever to exposing the legal industry’s role in perpetuating climate injustice,” said Sean Torres, one of the report’s organisers, adding: “As regulations evolve to address the climate crisis, the legal industry must also change with the times for the betterment of our future.”

As many as 42 law firms received an F – the lowest grade – for extensively servicing the fossil fuel energy sector, including those facilitating more than $20bn in fossil fuel transactions or receiving more than $2m in compensation for lobbying. They included US firms such as Akin Gump, Paul Weiss, Skadden Arps and White & Case, among many others, as well as the UK Magic Circle law firms Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters.

However, a record number of law firms received an A grade this year, indicating a positive shift in some approaches to renewable energy work. In total seven law firms, including Cooley, Foley Hoag and Wilson Sonsini, received the highest grade, while 11 firms received a B grade.

Vinod Aithal, of London Metropolitan University, said: “While some firms are moving in a positive direction, too many still aren’t doing enough. We hope this report helps students make informed choices about the paths they will take.”

He added: “Lower-scoring firms need to take notice of how their ranking appears to the talent pool and implement the necessary changes to safeguard our planet for the next generation.”

The Net Zero Lawyers Alliance and General Counsel for Sustainability Forum were both contacted for comment alongside named law firms. 

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