The Memo: Law, universities, and the energy transition

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Law, universities, and the energy transition

Isaac Hickford - 05th December 2022

Another season of university law fairs has come and gone here at Chambers Student and, coincidentally, it was university careers services that hit the headlines this week. On Thursday, it was announced that three UK universities - The University of the Arts London, University of Bedfordshire, and Wrexham Glyndwr University – had joined an existing group choosing to ban fossil fuel companies from recruiting students through their careers services. The move comes following a campaign by student-led ‘People & Planet’, backed by the National Union of Students and the Universities and College Union, which called for recruitment pipelines into the oil, gas, and mining industries to end. While it’s no secret that public pressure around the environmental impact of a business is greater than ever before, there’s no doubt that institutions and companies are becoming increasingly responsive to public demand.

For students looking ahead to a career in environmental law, it might come as a bit of a disappointment to know that most environment lawyers will find themselves working for big business clients, rather than holding them to account. Indeed, a big part of the work of lawyers in the sector is about taking pre-emptive steps to future-proof these businesses. As one ESG partner in the US recently put it: “With respect to environmental issues, we are looking more specifically at future risks: where the company is going to be in two years’ time and how the energy transition might affect the company.” In short, it’s often a question of understanding what stakeholders care about, and responding accordingly. So, while it’s not quite as glamorous as ‘justice vs big business’, a lot of the work in the space involves helping these businesses manage a transition to a renewable future.  

Of course, a number of firms that do energy work trumpet their renewable energy and climate change expertise, but it’s worth looking into what trainees in environment seats get up to. For a list of firms that offer an environment seat, take a look at our environment law practice area overview here.