Are Big Law Firms 'Weaponizing' Corporations To Reshape Society?
A phalanx of GOP legislators warn big law firms that Environmental, Social, and Governance practices, particular climate change initiatives, face antitrust scrutiny.
As U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned the world of climate change “chaos,” a phalanx of GOP legislators was taking aim at big law firms in the U.S. that help clients engage in Environmental, Social and Government (ESG) practices to combat climate change.
The GOP legislators charge the firms, which represent energy and financial services firms, are engaged un a “collusive effort to restrict the supply of coal, oil, and gas, which is driving up energy costs across the globe and empowering America’s adversaries abroad.”
ESG initiatives ask companies to behave in a socially conscious manner to minimize their impact on society and the environment. Investment firms discourage investments in coal or rock mining, nuclear or coal power, private prisons, agricultural biotechnology, tobacco, tar sands or weapons and firearms. The 2022 Wolters Kluwer Future Ready Lawyer Survey reports approximately 50% of law firms in the U.S. have created an ESG practice area in the past three years.
The legislators sent the same letter to 51 of America’s biggest law firms, many of which are multinational firms, advising that Congress plans to “increasingly use its oversight powers to scrutinize the institutional antitrust violations” being committed in the name of ESG. The letter equates ESG climate change initiatives with “participating in climate cartels.”
The signatories are GOP Senators Tom Cotton from Arkansas, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Marco Rubio of Florida, Michael S. Lee of Utah and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
The legislators say law firms have a duty to warn their clients to “lawyer up” prior to engaging in ESG initiatives that lead to anti-competitive practices. They say they will use their congressional oversight powers “to scrutinize the institutionalized antitrust violations being committed in the name of ESG.” The legislators warn both law firms that advise clients on ESG matters and the clients themselves to “take care to preserve relevant documents in anticipation of those investigations.”
Letter recipients include big firms primarily in Washington, D.C. and New York, including Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Cooley LLP, Davis Polk; Kirkland & Ellis; Latham & Watkins; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; Paul Hastings, Skadden, Winston & Strawn, etc.
According to the legislators, the firms, which represent clients around the globe, are attempting to “weaponize corporations to reshape society in ways that Americans would never endorse at the ballot box.”
Gutterres spoke Monday in dire terms at the UN’s climate change summit in Egypt, where world leaders described the fight against global warming as a battle for human survival. “Humanity has a choice; cooperate or perish,” said Guterres, who urged countries to phase out the use of coal, one of the most carbon-intense fuels, by 2040.