#DropExxon: Pressure is mounting on Big Law to combat climate change as 600 students pledge to boycott Paul Weiss for defending the oil giant

  • Law school students are set to gather in front of the Manhattan office of Paul Weiss today to deliver a petition, signed by more than 600 students from 47 law schools, to boycott the firm for its representation of ExxonMobil.
  • The #DropExxon campaign, which involves students from top law schools like Harvard, Yale, and NYU, is a result of rising concerns over the climate crisis, and the role that law firms play in exacerbating it.
  • The action comes just as firms are gearing up for on-campus interviews at law schools — the main pipeline for hiring talent.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A dozen students from prominent law schools will gather in front of the Manhattan headquarters of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP today to deliver the signatures of more than 600 law students who have pledged to boycott the firm for its representation of energy company ExxonMobil.

The #DropExxon campaign was catalyzed by rising concerns over climate change. According to the petition letter, which has pledges of students from 47 law schools across the country, Paul Weiss is currently defending Exxon in at least a dozen suits against the public for its role in the climate crisis.

Students' scrutiny of the firm's relationship with Exxon, which Bloomberg recently reported had plans to increase its annual carbon emissions according to leaked internal documents, comes as corporations continue to come under pressure to improve their sustainability standards.

Law firms have also directed their focus on advising clients on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. In April, Paul Weiss launched a sustainability and ESG advisory practice, underscoring its awareness of the issue. 

Despite those efforts, the firm was assigned an 'F' in the recently released 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard, which was created by Yale Law School students and analyzes the work conducted by the Vault Law 100 firms to determine each firm's contribution to the climate crisis. It found that from 2015 to 2019, the value of fossil fuel transactions where Paul Weiss served as legal adviser totaled over $5 billion. Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher were just some of the other firms that received 'F's. 

"At this do-or-die moment in human history, law students across the country are joining together to send a message: we won't work for you while you work for ExxonMobil," the petition reads. "We pledge that we will not interview with or work for Paul Weiss until they #DropExxon and join us in fighting for a livable future."

The action comes in the lead-up to the recruiting season for law student summer associate positions, the primary pipeline for talent at firms. Over two-thirds of the pledges come from students at Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and NYU, which are among Paul Weiss's top recruiting schools and four of the six top-ranked law schools in the country.

Read more: Here's how Columbia, NYU, and 4 other law schools are reworking high-stakes job interviews for students this year

Tim Hirschel-Burns, a second-year student at Yale Law School and an author of the Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard, told Business Insider that none of the students who signed the pledge "had received offers from Paul Weiss, but they had chosen not to apply or interview due to Paul Weiss's representation of Exxon."

The law student boycott of Paul Weiss is only the latest escalation of the #DropExxon campaign. In January and February this year, law students disrupted the firm's recruiting receptions at Harvard, Yale, NYU, and the University of Michigan, chanting, "We won't work for you if you work for them."

"We are proud of the outstanding work we do for a wide range of commercial and pro bono clients in their most challenging and high-profile matters, including our recent defense of ExxonMobil in a securities fraud case in which the court found, after trial, that plaintiff's claims were entirely without merit," said firm Chairman Brad Karp in a February statement to Bloomberg Law. "Paul, Weiss is committed to free speech and debate, just as we are committed to the principle that we represent our clients and safeguard the rule of law zealously and to the best of our abilities."

The students behind the campaign say they plan to continue collecting pledges from classmates, confronting Paul Weiss attorneys at speaking events, and circulating the Climate Change Scorecard to law schools across the country.

"Paul Weiss's work to shield corporate polluters from accountability hasn't stopped," said Aaron Regunberg, a second-year student at Harvard Law School and one of the #DropExxon organizers. "And neither will we."

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