A Law Firm-Led Effort to Provide Pro Bono Legal Services to Sustainability-Focused Entrepreneurs and Non-Profit Organizations
Fourteen private U.S. law firms have committed to delivering $23 million worth of free legal services by the end of 2020 to advance sustainability in energy, transportation and land use.
Supporting the effort, Stanford Law School and Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy will facilitate connections between participating firms and potential pro bono clients and track the effort’s impact.
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)
Since the original announcement, several additional major law firms have joined the initiative:
- Beveridge & Diamond ($1 million)
- Nixon Peabody ($2 million)
- Orrick ($2 million)
- Seyfarth Shaw ($500,000)
- Michelman & Robinson ($500,000)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.