A Law Firm-Led Effort to Provide Pro Bono Legal Services to Sustainability-Focused Entrepreneurs and Non-Profit Organizations
The Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy Initiative just wrapped up its successful two-year run and is poised to continue in 2021. The initiative—which aims to match non-profits and start-ups working in the field of environmental sustainability with law firms providing pro bono legal services—more than doubled in size over the course of its first two years. The original group of nine firms pledged $15 million in free legal services in 2018; by 2020, the initiative grew to include 14 firms pledging $23 million. But the firms did not stop once they hit their financial commitments, and several firms–including Nixon Peabody, Latham & Watkins, Arnold & Porter, Wilson Sonsini, and Morrison & Foerster–exceeded their pledge by millions of dollars.
Supporting the effort, Stanford Law School and Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy facilitate connections between participating firms and potential pro bono clients and track the effort’s impact. With member firms eager to extend the initiative beyond the original 2020 end date, Stanford is launching a new phase of the initiative in 2021, with hopes of growing the client and firm base even more.
The firms offer pro bono legal assistance to entrepreneurs and non-profits taking on key sustainability challenges.
Entrepreneurial and community-based efforts to advance sustainability are surging within the United States, but these efforts are often slowed by limited access to top-flight legal services. Even obtaining legal help on first-order matters associated with formation and incorporation can present hurdles for entrepreneurs. Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy provides an easier way for entrepreneurs and environmental non-profits working on sustainability projects to find firms that are offering pro bono help on these types of important matters. The Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy Initiative was incubated to facilitate this match.
The LSE initiative was announced at the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco and dedicated to the memory of Nancy McFadden, former Chief of Staff to Governor Jerry Brown. Karen Skelton, David J. Hayes and Ali Zaidi worked with Governor Brown, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and Stanford Law School and Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy to launch the Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy initiative. Stanford Law School will continue to provide periodic updates on the matters member firms are taking on as part of their commitment under the initiative.
The nine major law firms listed below are lead founders of the LSE initiative. The firms have committed to provide free legal services on on-going and new sustainability matters in the amounts identified over a two-year period:
- Arnold & Porter ($2 million)
- Cooley ($2 million)
- Dentons ($2 million)
- Hogan Lovells ($500,000)
- Holland & Knight ($2 million)
- Latham & Watkins ($2 million)
- Morrison & Foerster ($2 million)
- WilmerHale ($500,000)
- Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati ($4 million)
Law firms that joined the initiative in 2019/2020:
- Beveridge & Diamond ($1 million)
- Nixon Peabody ($2 million)
- Orrick ($2 million)
- Seyfarth Shaw ($500,000)
- Michelman & Robinson ($500,000)
Law firms that joined the initiative in 2021:
- Debevoise & Plimpton ($1 million)
- Fenwick ($250,000)
- Morgan Lewis ($250,000)
- Ropes & Gray ($1 million)
The initiative is truly a collaborative one, with the private sector and NGOs like Grist working with law firms to support connections between law firms and pro bono recipients. For example, Microsoft is helping to connect grantees from its AI for Earth program – a five-year, $50 million initiative that supports and partners with environmental groups, academic researchers, and start-ups – with the initiative for legal support. Pro bono lawyers from additional companies, including Goldman Sachs, have also volunteered to assist LSE firms.
Companies participating in the Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy are making a commitment to assist the initiative in a number of ways, including by: (1) enabling company in-house lawyers to provide pro bono assistance to clients directly, or in coordination with outside LSE-member law firms, on company time; (2) encouraging outside law firms and other companies to participate in the LSE initiative; and (3) using their community outreach activities to identify potential clients who may qualify for, and benefit from, pro bono services provided through the LSE network.