Lawyers drafting for sustainability – The Chancery Lane Project
Forsters are supporting The Chancery Lane Project - a pro bono collective effort by lawyers to develop new drafting for contracts and laws to help fight climate change.
The UK government has committed to achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. That may seem like a long way off but big changes to the UK economy will be needed. If change comes from top down legislation alone there will be a long lead in time and more risk of businesses being caught out by laws that cut across the market.
What is The Chancery Lane Project?
This is where The Chancery Lane Project comes in. As explained on their website, it was set up in 2019 with the idea that lawyers advise across every sector of the economy and the contracts they draft influence the economic relationships of society. Being a real estate lawyer, a lease or development agreement that I complete today may be in place for years to come. The carbon emissions associated with that property over that time can be influenced by the original contracts. Corporate lawyers can look at shareholder agreements. Construction lawyers can amend industry precedents.
These are just examples but the idea is that the legal profession may be in a position to help clients adjust to the coming changes ahead of legislation. In commercial transactions the starting point for any negotiation is influenced by custom. If greener clauses become more familiar and we talk about those with our clients then together we may help create new market norms. Many of our clients have internal climate conscious or carbon reduction policies and environmental risk is increasingly influencing investment decisions so it makes sense on many levels to tackle this issue.
The first step is to create greener drafting in a way that will work in practice. This takes some thought. Early green lease clauses were in a separate section and often simply placed extra burdens on a tenant. Unless the landlord’s team addressed this in the context of the overall deal those clauses were prone to being watered down or deleted. A fresh approach is needed and The Chancery Lane Project is providing that.
The idea is that lawyers - whatever their specialism - individually look at their own day to day work and think of ways (large or small) that climate change solutions can be incorporated. You can then work with The Chancery Lane Project to share those ideas and influence others so that changes happen in mainstream practice. In the first year of the project 5,000 pro bono hours have been donated (worth about one and a half million in fees) and 115 organisations have been involved across 60 countries.
Have a hackathon
The first event held by The Chancery Lane Project was a “hackathon” workshop in London attended by 120 lawyers from 63 different organisations and many different areas of law. The lawyers were divided into teams and given a topic or an idea and together they put together drafting. Those model clauses were published in the first “Playbook” (available on the website). Some clever ideas came out of this. For example, thinking about ways that green lease clauses can be made to work for both parties, there are clauses designed for residential assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) to nudge private rental tenants into shopping around for green energy suppliers. This is likely to save money on bills compared to being on the standard variable rate of a big supplier (which most people are). Around 20% of the UK population privately rent so if that clause became widespread across the market it could have a big effect. There are plenty of creative and practical ideas set out in the Playbook.
Forsters will be supporting The Chancery Lane Project in the next virtual live “hacking” event in early November 2020.
The issue of sustainability for the charitable sector takes many guises, including in the way in which charities invest funds, but also in the activities which charities undertake and, by implication, fund. Sustainability as a theme can be observed through a number of different lenses and I deal below with the investment of funds and charitable activities in this context.