All Lawyers Need to Provide Climate-Competent Representations

By Warren G. Lavey - Clients and societies require lawyers throughout practice areas, not just environmental specialists, to apply knowledge of climate conditions and legal frameworks.  Law schools and bar associations should mainstream climate-competency training.


Person Walking on Flood

A multitude of multifaceted legal representations are swept up in the pervasive changes required for climate sustainability.  It would be wrong to frame the challenge as a niche specialty of environmental or “climate change law” applicable only to a few practitioners, clients in limited economic sectors and geographic areas, or isolated matters.  Instead, the International Bar Association in 2014 pointed to dealing with climate change through legal and institutional reforms and by applying many areas of law.  Similarly, the American Bar Association in 2019 urged all lawyers – not just climate, environmental, or energy law specialists – “to advise their clients of the risks and opportunities that climate change provides.”  However, law schools and programs for lawyers have not yet stepped up to train current and future attorneys for climate knowledge and skills. 

Gavel Photo: Warren G. Lavey A new paper, “Training All Law Students and Lawyers for Climate-Competent Representations”, describes climate change impacts in many practice areas and presents various approaches for closing the gap in climate capabilities for law students and practitioners.  These approaches span from using climate materials in a variety of law school courses, skills training, and ethics programs, to covering climate developments in diverse bar section publications and bar association resolutions.  This article builds on a toolkit published in 2019 of cases and other materials for integrating climate change capabilities when teaching fundamental competencies in ten high-enrollment law school courses.

In opening the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 25) in December 2019, the Secretary-General called on people around the globe to face the need to “urgently change our way of life.”  To make these transformations, governments, businesses, other organizations, and individuals need attorneys who consider changing climates and responses by governments and courts.  Going beyond the obvious areas of environmental, energy, and land use law, climate change is affecting practitioners focused on contracts, business associations, civil and criminal litigation, banking, insurance, taxes, bankruptcy/insolvency, family/immigration, and other areas of law. 

In the future, most attorneys will be immersed in climate-affected representations and clients will rely on their competency regarding the changing environmental and legal conditions.  For a just transition to environmental integrity, WCEL and IUCN recommended “environmental legal education and capacity building for all people” in the World Declaration on the Environmental Rule of Law (2016).  To change our way of life, environmental lawyers should be joined by a multitude of other attorneys in developing and implementing climate solutions for clients.  All lawyers need to get on board the ship of climate-competent practice as the sea level rises.

About the Author

Warren G. Lavey Photo: Warren G. Lavey Adjunct associate professor teaching environmental law, policy, and advocacy at the University of Illinois (USA).  WCEL Member since 2014.  Retired partner, Skadden Arps.  JD, Harvard Law School.

Go to top