At the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, nine large law firms announced Friday that they would deliver $15 million in free legal services within the next two years in order to advance sustainability around the world.
Seven firms—Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, Cooley, Dentons, Holland & Knight, Latham & Watkins, Morrison & Foerster and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati—said they would contribute $2 million apiece by 2020. Two others, Hogan Lovells and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, will contribute $500,000 each.
The new initiative, called Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy, sought to honor the work of the late Nancy McFadden, an attorney and former chief of staff to California Gov. Jerry Brown, a longtime environmental advocate and outspoken opponent of the Trump administration. McFadden had assisted Brown on a number of efforts designed to combat climate change, including putting together the Global Climate Action Summit.
“Today’s announcement is a perfect example of how Nancy makes it possible for our ability to continue the work that has to be done to save our environment,“ said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in Friday’s press conference in which he praised the firms’ commitment. “It is important that we recognize that there are people who sometimes don’t have the capabilities to fight for themselves, for their community and their environment. The fact that we come together as one team to say that everyone can have that opportunity, to make the fight and to win, is critical.”
Under the program, the participating firms will provide millions in free legal assistance to nonprofits and businesses working on climate and sustainability issues such as energy, transportation and land use. Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy and Stanford Law School, which will help incubate the initiative, will also participate in the program by connecting firms with potential pro bono clients and tracking their progress.
“Essentially, what it is, is a team of fighters from some of our best law firms with our most capable and skilled attorneys, who come together with the resource their firms bring to make sure that there is no one who goes into a fight with his [or] her hands tied behind their back,” Becerra said.
Attorneys general from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Washington, D.C., have also voiced their support for the potential impact created by the nine firms’ commitment.
Lawyers participating in the program will provide a range of legal services to pro bono clients, including counsel on contracts, corporate governance, incorporation, intellectual property protection, litigation, real estate, regulatory and financial-related issues. Participating lawyers will act voluntarily in a manner consistent with their own firms’ own pro bono, conflicts rules and policies.
“One of the exciting things about this pro bono program for us will be working with some of the entrepreneurs and nonprofits as they seek to establish greater inroads with traditional organizations,” said Susan Mac Cormac, chair of Morrison & Foerster’s social enterprise and impact investing practice, as well as co-chair of its energy and clean technology group.
As part of the initiative, Morrison & Foerster is partnering with Aclima Inc., a San Francisco-based company that uses its network of sensors to gather data about air quality for businesses, governments and the public to better understand pollution on a hyper-local scale.
Davida Herzl, who was trained as a lawyer, founded Aclima in 2008. She said her company is working with Morrison & Foerster to expand their work into communities, such as environmental justice and impact groups, that need their data. Morrison & Foerster also assists the company on corporate matters.
“The initiative that was announced today makes available a number of legal services,“ Herzl said. “As our needs evolved, there will be different lawyers and law firms in the group that can work with us to solve some [of] those challenges as they come along.“
The groups are being paired up by Grist, which curates and cultivates a network of community-based “Fixers.” That helped some participating firms identify individuals and organizations working on sustainability solutions.
“This pro bono legal aid will give a major boost to people who are fighting pollution,“ said a statement from Brown. “This program is a fitting tribute to Nancy McFadden, who was a trailblazing attorney and fearless advocate for the environment.“
The Global Climate Action Summit was supposed to bring together business leaders, mayors, governors and activists to introduce new solutions and deeper commitments to sustainability. However, throughout the three-day gathering, protesters have interrupted the proceedings, calling upon local and world leaders to do more to address climate change and pollution.
Brown’s speech was also disrupted by a group of activists demanding that he bring an end to the extraction and processing of fossil fuel in California.
Leaders from each participating firm explain their decision to take part in the Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy initiative: