Practising law with both my heart and my head – responding to the climate challenge

By Guest Blogger

My father took part in D Day. The war coloured the lives and attitudes of his generation. My daughters are on track, the science tells us, to lead lives dominated by runaway climate heating and the sixth mass extinction. My peers and I, meanwhile, are the first generation to understand fully the implications of our lifestyles and the last blessed with the opportunity to avert its most devastating impacts.

So, to generalise, we have not had such traumatic experiences to contend with, we have caused more carbon emissions than any others and we are at risk of blowing our chance to make a positive difference. This has come to dominate my approach to life as a lawyer and it is both uncomfortable and inspiring.

It is uncomfortable because it means making many changes to how I work:

– Rather than saying I am doing my job simply by furthering my clients’ interests, I am thinking of the regulatory objective of Legal Services Act to “protect and promote the public interest” and considering what impact the activities I am enabling will have on the environment and society more widely and seeking to help clients, intentionally, to make this more positive

– Rather than putting my head alone at the disposal of clients and colleagues, I am allowing my heart to engage also. This makes me vulnerable but puts the whole me at the clients’ service, offering something relational, not merely transactional

– Rather than focusing entirely on this financial year and the billing within it, I am thinking about how actions and decisions will be construed in a few years time, when endeavours to preserve the status quo and (certain) arguments founded on precedence will seem laughable where given priority over emissions reduction and biodiversity protection or restoration

Above all, I want to avoid being guilty by omission; by refusing to acknowledge and to use the influence I have, as a lawyer, to affect positively how we act collectively in these critical years. I remain mindful of Hannah Arendt’s comment that, ‘The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.’

Yet I am inspired because whilst change is challenging, and in this case involves so much more than marginal tweaks to preserve business as usual, the prize – survival for the species in a flourishing future world – is massive. Or, as Joanna Macy more eloquently puts it, this is a moment of choice greater than any other in history. We have an absolute requirement to honour life and whether we make it or not, these are exquisite times to be alive.

And this is why I am thrilled that my colleagues at Bates Wells have acknowledged the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis and have made a series of commitments in response to it. I relish the prospect of contributing to delivering on these commitments and supporting others across the profession to play their part, as I am confident I am not alone.

Blog by David Hunter
Consultant 
Charity & Social Enterprise Department 
Bates & Wells LLP

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