Stanford’s Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy Celebrates Two-year Anniversary of the Successful Pro Bono Project 

 The Stanford Law-supported Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy (LSE) initiative recently wrapped up a successful two-year run matching non-profits and start-ups working in the field of environmental sustainability with attorneys from leading U.S. law firms providing pro bono legal services. The initiative grew in size over the initial two years from an original group of nine firms that pledged $15 million in free legal services in 2018 to 14 firms pledging $23 million in 2020. Several participating firms–including Nixon Peabody, Latham & Watkins, Arnold & Porter, Wilson Sonsini and Morrison & Foerster–exceeded their initial pledges by millions of dollars.

Below are excerpts from a SunCast Media podcast interview with Molly Melius, Director of the LSE and Program Manager of the Environmental Natural Resources of Law and Policy Program at Stanford Law School, as well as Jesse Lazarus, Senior Associate of the LSE and a 2nd-year law student at Stanford Law School, where they discuss the successes and future of the initiative.

Listen to the podcast

Read the LSE 2020 Annual Report

Application for legal services 

Stanford’s Molly Loughney Melius on the Two-year Anniversary of the Successful Pro-bono Project, Lawyer’s for a Sustainable Economy
Director of the Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy Initiative Molly Melius

What is the Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy (LSE) Initiative, and who does it support?

Melius: The Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy Initiative (“or LSE initiative for short”) is a law firm-led and Stanford-supported effort to provide free, legal assistance to sustainability-focused entrepreneurs and non-profits. 

In particular, the initiative aims to support promising, green entrepreneurs and non-profits who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford legal services, but with access to top-notch legal services, can launch their efforts to advance a sustainable economy. 

This includes efforts that serve the needs of marginalized, disenfranchised, or disadvantaged groups in a way that advances a sustainable economy (such as developing community solar projects to bring clean energy to residents of public housing), as well as those that directly work on environmental and public health matters (such as a non-profit advocating for increased public investment in energy efficiency as a way to improve the environment or public health)

Stanford Law School and Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy support the initiative by facilitating connections between participating law firms and green entrepreneurs and non-profit clients. 

Why was the LSE Initiative started?

Melius: The LSE initiative was launched in 2018 by not only Stanford but also a number of leading government figures and climate policy experts, such as former California Governor Brown, California AG Xavier Becerra, the now Deputy White House National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi, former Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior David Hayes, and founder of Skelton Strategies Karen Skelton.

The reason for launching the LSE initiative was that, although entrepreneurial and community-based efforts to advance sustainability are surging within the United States, these efforts are often slowed by limited access to world-class legal services. 

Even obtaining legal help on some of the first steps associated with formation and incorporation can present hurdles for green entrepreneurs. The Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy initiative provides an easier way for entrepreneurs and environmental non-profits working on sustainability projects to find law firms that are offering pro bono help. 

This includes not only support with incorporation, but also with corporate governance (such as drafting bylaws and other policies), drafting and reviewing contracts, land use advice, IP protection, website-related issues (such as privacy policies, terms of use), structuring advice for financing and investment, tax advice, and litigation.

Senior Associate of the Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy Initiative and 2nd-year law student Jesse Lazarus

The LSE initiative was launched in 2018, how has it done so far?

Lazarus: Even in the middle of a global pandemic and economic depression, the initiative has grown from 9 to 14 law firms that not only met but exceeded their original commitments of $23M to offer $35M in pro bono legal services by the end of last year. 

It is really inspiring – the law firms are so grateful to be doing this meaningful work, not just for their own sake but also for their children’s sake. 

The feedback from clients has been similarly enthusiastic. In surveys of the clients, 58% said their experience was excellent and another 33% described it as very good or good, so over 90% of the clients have had very positive experiences getting help through the LSE. Microsoft has also decided to connect grantees from its AI for Earth program with the LSE initiative to receive free legal support.

What are some of the types of clients and projects that the LSE initiative has supported? 

Melius: We’ve supported both non-profits and for-profit start-ups with projects ranging from a clean water project in Kenya, to solar roof installation projects in NYC, to using plant-based materials rather than plastic to make hair braids.

Some other projects include:

  • 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. 
  • Nanogrid: Latham & Watkins is working with Nanogrid, a start-up public benefit corporation with a mission of reducing greenhouse gases from the electricity sector and lowering customer utility bills. 
  • Common Energy: Nixon Peabody assisted Common Energy in developing its community solar subscriber agreement, which enables homeowners and renters to support new, local renewable energy projects. 
  • 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 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. 

How can green entrepreneurs find out more about the LSE initiative and apply to receive free legal support from leading law firms?

Lazarus: They should go to, check out the eligibility criteria and fill out the intake form with information about the work they are doing to support sustainability efforts and what their legal needs are. Then we will follow up by phone and try to match the applicant with a law firm.

We are also both happy to answer any questions in the meantime, can be reached at the email address “”