(July 31, 2023) — Following record-breaking ocean temperatures, severe flooding around the world, and the hottest week in recorded history, Law Students for Climate Accountability (LSCA) has published its 2023 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard, our fourth annual report on the state of the Vault 100’s ties to fossil fuels. In each iteration, the scorecard has shed light on the ways in which the legal industry supports the fossil fuel industry’s exploitation of vulnerable communities and the planet’s natural resources — but this inexcusable work continues to grow. Through lobbying, transactional work, and litigation, firms that are ranked on the “Vault 100” list of the largest and most prestigious firms have propelled the fossil fuel industry to new heights while climate change ravages communities and the environment.
“The F firms on the list are responsible for egregious harms, enabling projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline — which has now been operating commercially for over six years,” said Aidan Bassett, a contributing author on the 2023 Scorecard and rising 2L at Georgetown University Law Center. “And this legacy continues today, with new fossil infrastructure like the Mountain Valley Pipeline that the Supreme Court paved the way for just last Thursday. This scorecard reflects that we have never needed to act more urgently.”
This year, we paired our Climate Responsibility Pledge with methodological updates, including adding a “safe harbor” provision for firms with only one instance of fossil fuel representation in our dataset. Although this change resulted in a record five firms receiving an A, new data sources revealed that the scale of firms’ support for the fossil fuel industry was even greater than previously thought, and the headline statistics of the Vault 100’s overall complicity remain stark:
The 2023 scorecard reveals the clearest portrait of the Vault 100’s work for fossil fuel clients to date. But while many Vault 100 firms maintain their allegiance to the fossil fuel industry, law students continue to hold the power to punish those firms by opting to work for a competitor with a better track record on climate.
(a.) Earning more than 30 involvement points for cases furthering climate change;
(b.) Facilitating more than $20 billion in fossil fuel transactions; or
(c.) Receiving more than $2 million in compensation for fossil fuel lobbying.
LSCA’s scorecard also comes as the legal profession experiences an intensifying legitimacy crisis. Recent Supreme Court rulings, coupled with an ethics crisis among its justices, have made visible the egregious corporate capture of the American legal system. Alongside a climate crisis fueled overwhelmingly by multinational corporations, the time to act is now.
“The scorecard this year shows a real opportunity,” said Jamie Smith, a lead researcher on the 2023 scorecard and rising 2L at New York University School of Law. “With more A and B firms than ever, we can use our power as students to choose employers mitigating the climate crisis, and in doing so continue to push firms away from fossil fuel work.”
The scorecard calls on law firms to phase out their work for the fossil fuel industry and seeks to provide support to law students and lawyers who are concerned about the climate crisis. Law firms have faced increasing pressure over their work for fossil fuel clients in recent years. Students protested four Paul Weiss recruitment receptions in early 2020 and over 600 students have pledged to boycott the firm as long as it represents Exxon.
This spring, Law Students for Climate Accountability exposed the British legal industry’s ties with fossil fuel companies and the role top-ranked law schools play in exacerbating the climate crisis. This comes at a crucial juncture as climate litigation movements have increasingly reaffirmed their power within courtrooms and collected significant victories across the globe.
As students return to campuses this year, on the heels of a scorching summer and an increase in organizing across the nation, law students are preparing to increase pressure on firms that refuse to adopt an ethical standard for their work and end their contribution to the climate crisis.
The report can be viewed here.
Law Students for Climate Accountability, a project of Earth Island Institute, is an organization of law students from across the country who are committed to holding the legal industry accountable for its role in the climate crisis. For more information, visit www.ls4ca.org.