Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy

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.

18


Major, private U.S. law firms

$35M


Provided in pro bono legal services over two years

2


Corporate and non-profit partners

The firms offer pro bono legal assistance to entrepreneurs and non-profits taking on key sustainability challenges.

About the Initiative

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 types of legal services that firms participating in Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy may be able to provide include: support with incorporation, corporate governance (e.g., bylaws, policies), contracts, real estate, IP protection, website-related issues (e.g., privacy policies, terms of use), structuring advice for financing and investment, tax advice, and litigation.

Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy

Environmental & Natural Resources Law and Policy Program Logo

We applaud the work of Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy, which has connected entrepreneurs and community-based non-profits with the expert legal advice they need to advance climate and environmental justice efforts. While the threat of climate change is immense, we look optimistically forward as our efforts and partners grow. We will continue to harness the power of the public and private sector together, moving forward to build a brighter, cleaner, and more sustainable future.

Xavier Becerra, California Attorney General

Who's in the Initiative?

Law Firms

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:

Law firms that joined the initiative in 2019/2020:

Law firms that joined the initiative in 2021:

Corporate Partners

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.

View Advisory Council

Sponsors

Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy 2

Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy 1

Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy 3

Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy 4

The Future of Healthcare Symposium

The Future of Healthcare Symposium 4

Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy 5

Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy 6

Beyond Preemption, Toward Metropolitan Governance
"Tackling these tough issues today will create real and lasting impact in communities all over the world for generations to come."

T. Clark Weymouth, Pro Bono Partner at Hogan Lovells

Current Pro Bono Work

The Ocean Cleanup

Latham & Watkins is providing legal services to The Ocean Cleanup, which develops advanced technologies to significantly reduce pollution in our world’s waters. The Ocean Cleanup’s approach differs from previous attempts to collect floating debris, because it is large-scale, energy efficient, environmentally sound, and may even pay for itself. The Ocean Cleanup released a major scientific study and launched its beta version—System 001, aka Wilson—in the Pacific Ocean in fall 2018. While Wilson has encountered setbacks, The Ocean Cleanup is learning many valuable lessons, which will enable the organization to bring its operations to scale as it aims to achieve its ambitious goal of a 90 percent reduction in the ocean’s floating trash by 2040. Latham has advised The Ocean Cleanup as it navigated regulatory matters in preparation for its pilot, and continues to advise the organization as it develops solutions to significantly reduce pollution in our world’s waters.

Read More

Blue Forest Conservation

Orrick advised Blue Forest Conservation (“Blue Forest”) in developing a $4 million Forest Resilience Bond, a financing mechanism which raises private capital to finance forest restoration work to reduce the risk of severe fire. As part of its first pilot project, Blue Forest and World Resource Institute will lend the loan proceeds to the National Forest Foundation, which will hire contractors and manage the forestry work in 15,000 acres of forestland in the North Yuba River watershed using ecologically based tree thinning, meadow restoration, prescribed burning, and invasive species management. Blue Forest hopes this initial pilot project will create the framework for forest restoration work country-wide.

Read More

The Samburu Project

Latham & Watkins is providing legal support to The Samburu Project, a non-profit focused on providing easy access to clean, safe drinking water as a foundation for development to communities in Samburu, Kenya.

Read More

Joint Venture Silicon Valley

Orrick is providing legal services to Joint Venture Silicon Valley—a non profit that brings together Silicon Valley’s established and emerging leaders from business, government, academia, labor and the broader community to spotlight issues and work toward innovative solutions. One recent Joint Venture Initiative that Orrick has provided pro bono support over the past year is a food rescue initiative to reduce food waste and to feed people in need. Orrick has provided legal research on California’s “good Samaritan law” as it applies to donated food, tax deductibility benefits as it applies to donated food, legal exposure regarding Joint Venture buying and operating a refrigerated food truck and legal exposure around hiring certain categories of people to drive it.

Community Solar

Nixon Peabody initiated DC’s first Community Solar project — developing solar arrays on multiple buildings (including its own office); working through complex regulatory, financing, and interconnection issues; and promoting environmental equity by donating all energy produced to the city’s most vulnerable residents. The program is now being scaled out by New Partners Community Solar Corp with the firm’s pro bono support.

Read More

The Carbon Endowment

Morrison Foerster is working with The Carbon Endowment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by acquiring and retiring fossil fuel rights from ecologically significant landscapes, restoring lands and waters impacted by fossil fuel extraction, and supporting communities adversely affected by the clean energy transition.

More Details

Energy Peace Partners

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati assisted Energy Peace Partners (“EPP”) with their formation and fiscal sponsorship agreement with the California Clean Energy Fund. Energy Peace Partners leverages economic and climate solutions to support peace in the world’s most fragile regions.  Their climate-sensitive approach expands the existing toolkit for supporting peace and development by extending the renewable energy revolution to some of the most vulnerable populations on the planet.

WSGR put together the first Peace Renewable Energy Credit (“PREC”) term sheet and form agreement. In 2019 WSGR will be helping EPP to develop a pipeline of PREC pilot projects.

Read More

WeWork Food Labs Accelerator

Holland & Knight has partnered with WeWork to provide pro bono legal services to the eight start-up companies that were selected from roughly 500 applicants to participate in WeWork’s Food Labs Accelerator, an incubator that supports innovative new companies as they prepare to launch new technologies designed to address environmental and climate change-related issues in the food and agriculture industry. The Food Labs participants are developing business concepts ranging from the conversion of food waste to usable food and other products, to the development and promotion of plant-based foods and meals, to the improvement of sustainable agricultural practices. Holland & Knight is counseling these start-up innovators on corporate governance and structure, IP, labor and employment, licensing and joint development arrangements, and investor relations.

Blue Forest Conservation

Orrick advised Blue Forest Conservation (“Blue Forest”) in developing a $4 million Forest Resilience Bond, a financing mechanism which raises private capital to finance forest restoration work to reduce the risk of severe fire. As part of its first pilot project, Blue Forest and World Resource Institute will lend the loan proceeds to the National Forest Foundation, which will hire contractors and manage the forestry work in 15,000 acres of forestland in the North Yuba River watershed using ecologically based tree thinning, meadow restoration, prescribed burning, and invasive species management. Blue Forest hopes this initial pilot project will create the framework for forest restoration work country-wide.

Chesapeake Conservancy

Beveridge & Diamond advises the Chesapeake Conservancy on issues involving governance, due diligence, and most recently on a complex multiparty acquisition and conservation of one of the last undeveloped parcels in the Quiet Waters area of Ann Arundel County, Maryland. The Conservancy is non-profit organization based in Annapolis, Maryland dedicated to a wide variety of conservation-related initiatives centered on the Chesapeake Bay, including land conservation, public access to the Bay, regional initiatives to reduce pollution, among many others.

Kinetic Communities Consulting Corporation (KC3)

Nixon Peabody LLP’s corporate, energy, intellectual property and affordable housing attorneys are working with Kinetic Communities Consulting Corporation (KC3), New York City’s first minority- and woman-owned social enterprise benefit corporation. KC3 is dedicated to helping low-income households transition to a democratic clean energy future. Energy democracy is a collaborative community effort focused on shifting away from traditional corporate modes of energy to models that are governed by local communities and are environmentally conscious. KC3 works at the crossroads of affordable housing and energy efficiency, serving underrepresented New Yorkers through education, networking, and making energy efficiency easier to understand. Nixon Peabody has supported KC3’s work with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to create solar rooftop gardens at 24 buildings in 8 developments, creating green jobs for NYCHA residents, and organizing efficiency awareness campaign events that provide active workshops on energy efficiency.

National Parks Conservation Association

Arnold & Porter has been continuing to represent National Parks Conservation Association in a number of matters to protect the National Park System, including: challenging in court the National Park Service’s (“NPS”) view that it lacked authority to prohibit hunting on non-federal land in Grand Teton National Park; contesting President Trump’s reduction of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and protesting the Administration’s management plan for the reduced and excluded areas because of the harmful impacts that will result to adjacent national parks; learning through FOIA requests and related litigation about the decision of the Department of the Interior to open the national parks during the 2018-2019 Government shutdown and the diversion of funds to finance that decision and analyzing the legal implications thereof; addressing challenges in a number of areas to fisheries and other marine resources from climate change and other threats; and other matters.

Aclima and Local Air Quality

Morrison & Foerster attorneys have represented Aclima, the San Francisco-based start-up that provides hyperlocal air quality and climate emissions data and insights, at block-by-block resolution. Aclima’s goal is to generate data for parts of the world that have never had accurate air quality information so that policymakers and funders can make informed decisions to reduce emissions and protect public health in those areas. The Morrison & Foerster team is advising Aclima on corporate structure and impact strategies.

The Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice

Cooley is working with The Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, a non-profit organization led by human rights and environmental activist Catherine Flowers. The organization’s mission is to improve health conditions for people living in poverty in America by addressing wastewater management and related issues. Cooley has worked with the organization on new entity formation, general corporate and organizational matters, and to apply for a 501(c)(3) tax exemption.

Sustainable Ocean Alliance

Wilson Sonsini is working with Sustainable Ocean Alliance in its efforts to develop leaders, cultivate ideas, and accelerate solutions around the world to promote ocean health and sustainability. Through supporting Sustainable Ocean Alliance’s startup accelerator program, Ocean Solutions Accelerator, Wilson Sonsini helps prepare ocean entrepreneurs to market, scale, and raise capital for their sustainable innovations in the fields of clean energy, fisheries management, hydrocarbon and plastics extraction, upcycling and closed loop innovations, ocean data analytics, and even assisted evolution for corals.

Restore the Earth Foundation

Latham & Watkins is working with the Restore the Earth Foundation, which works to restore land in the Mississippi River Basin.  Latham is providing them with contractual advice to restore approximately one million acres of degraded land in the Mississippi River basin. Latham is also providing compliance advice on carbon sequestration, carbon markets, and carbon trading.