Legal teams are uniquely placed to influence their organisation’s response to the climate crisis, senior legal chiefs have told the Law Society’s flagship conference for in-house lawyers.

Dozens of lawyers attended Chancery Lane today to hear a keynote address on how they can drive the environmental aspect of their employer’s environmental, social and governance strategy.

Last year the Law Society published a ‘climate change resolution’ to support solicitors to develop a climate-conscious approach to legal practice, pointing out that nearly a third of the UK’s largest businesses have pledged to eliminate their carbon emissions by 2050 and requiring those who they do business with to adopt similar measures.

Adam Woodhall, chief executive of Lawyers for Net Zero, an environmental network to support in-house lawyers, told the conference that climate and environmental issues presented challenges and opportunities that required leadership. In-house lawyers, whether they are the general counsel, counsel in a legal team or an IP lawyer for a charity, can be those leaders.

On why general counsel are uniquely placed to drive their employer’s response, Will Morris, chief counsel for civil aerospace at Rolls-Royce, said in-house often underestimate their influence.

‘You are often in the room when organisations are dealing with interesting strategic issues. You really understand the business as well as the legal requirements to balance risk with opportunity. Throughout the climate crisis, there are going to be really tough decisions. Organisations are going to have to forego short-term commercial interests to progress net zero commitments.’

‘What are we good at as lawyers? We are pretty good at systems-based thinking. Understanding the cause and effect behind things, establishing the facts, simplifying things for people. As we go through a difficult transition for society, you are in a great place to help navigate through that and problem-solve.’

Louise Inward, general counsel for Pension Insurance Corporation, pointed out that nothing happens in an organisation without her legal team knowing. ‘Everything comes past one of my team – stuff said externally, every single contract whether it’s stationery or a multi-million pound housing investment.’

When it comes to climate action, ‘I see people enthusiastic about this, but when I look at the contract it’s not there,’ she said. ‘It allows me to persuade the organisation and gives lawyers power because, as a regulated entity, we are going to have to be reporting under the TFCD [taskforce on climate-related financial disclosures].’

Inward added that the GC’s role is much more than guarding against ‘greenwashing’ and suggested lawyers begin with small steps, such as inserting contract provisions to monitor suppliers’ efforts to reduce emissions. ‘The majority of emissions are in our supply chain not in us,’ she said.

Do you want to know more about Environmental Social and Governance? The ESG: Introductory Overview for Lawyers masterclass on Tuesday June 14 at 9:30am will provide an insight to the opportunities that ESG presents to create new areas of business, boost reputation and enhance transparency around sustainability.

Book here >>