Too Hot to Handle: Law Society’s Climate Change Guidance

Judging by the reaction to the Law Society’s latest guidance note, Impact of climate change on solicitors, released yesterday, the “milestone climate change guidance” has got lawyers hot under their white collars.

Said to be the first guidance of its kind in the world, the 28-page note seeks to “enable the profession to be at the forefront of responding to the challenges of climate change which impacts all areas of legal practice,” according to Caroline May, chairwoman of the Law Society’s climate change working group.

While the note provides guidance for law firms on how to manage their business in a manner consistent with the transition to net zero, such as avoiding greenwashing in marketing and communications and taking into account employees’ stance on climate change, it also considers how climate change physical and legal risks may be relevant to client advice and how climate change issues may affect both solicitors’ professional duties and the solicitor-client relationship.

It is this final point, in particular, that provoked such a flurry of commentary.

The Law Society guidance states: “Some solicitors may … choose to decline to advise on matters that are incompatible with the 1.5°C goal [of the 2016 Paris Agreement], or for clients actively working against that goal if it conflicts with your values or your firm’s stated objectives.”

“Woke, virtue-signalling nonsense”, “reckless” and “‘landmark guidance’ but for all the wrong reasons,” were just some of the reactions, with the Law Society accused of meddling in green politics and representing the interests of climate change activists rather than solicitors.  

The Law Society emphasises the importance of access to justice and the right to legal representation, by stressing that solicitors are not obliged to represent every prospective client that knocks on the door (unlike barristers who are bound by the ‘cab rank rule’).

However, in stating that “climate-related issues may be valid considerations in determining whether to act”, the guidance could further empower climate change protestors to take direct action against law firms and solicitors acting for big energy companies. Moreover, according to Iain Miller, regulatory partner at Kingsley Napley, it raises the prospect that in time firms may face regulatory action for representing clients that damage the environment. The existence of this warning to the profession, he says, may in due course be relied upon to demonstrate that this risk was known about.  

The guidance was also criticised for suggesting that law firms may want to consider accommodating employees who identify climate change as a ‘recognised philosophical belief’ – a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act.

Furthermore, as one of its detractors pointed out, in highlighting the impact of climate legal risks on solicitors’ professional duties, the guidance could increase the risk of law firms being sued for professional negligence.

Whatever your take on the Law Society’s guidance, one thing is clear: law firms need to be alive to, plan for and mitigate the increasing reputational risk related to climate change – whether from greenwashing allegations, employment claims, professional negligence cases, the representation – or even non-representation – of energy clients.  

Meanwhile, the Bar Council’s Climate Crisis Working Group is crafting draft ethical guidance for the Bar, liaising with the Law Society. It follows last month’s declaration by some 120 lawyers, among them prominent KCs, that they will not prosecute peaceful climate protesters or act for companies supporting new fossil fuel projects. Could this herald the beginning of the end of the cab rank rule?

Written by Sarah Peters, Senior Consultant at Bell Yard Communications


We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Job Vacancy: Consultant – Account Manager Level


Bell Yard Communications is a small, respected PR agency focusing on litigation PR and PR for businesses and individuals in the legal sector. 

Founded in 2002 by Director, Melanie Riley, the agency built its name representing high-profile clients in times of civil dispute, criminal prosecution or regulatory investigation. These days, Bell Yard consultants are as well-known and valued as communications advisers to the legal community, providing day-to-day strategic counsel to partners, law firms and chambers alike.   

The agency’s output defies its size.  It values its highly collegiate, meritocratic atmosphere and flexible, non-hierarchical structure.   

The Role:

Bell Yard is seeking an experienced PR consultant to advise clients in the legal community on their profile-raising communications programmes and sensitive reputational matters.  Ideally a full-time position, but applicants seeking to work 4 days per week would also be considered. 

The chosen candidate will join a close-knit, friendly, supportive and busy team and will be exposed to a combination of challenging, but always interesting, assignments.   The candidate will primarily report to one existing senior team member, though ultimately to the agency’s Director.   The candidate will support this senior consultant on their existing retained accounts, and work with the agency on securing new business opportunities.  The candidate, in turn, will be supported by the very able Office Manager/Client Service Executive.

The post holder would work on a mixture of consumer- and B2B- facing PR programmes for Bell Yard’s retained law firm accounts.

The primary focus of the role is traditional media relations, although there would be social media work and other PR-related tasks too. 


  • Client Management: implementing communications strategies and PR plans for clients seeking to raise their profile in international, broadcast, domestic, trade, lifestyle magazines and social media environments.    Daily engagement with clients ensuring continuous provision of professional, intelligent, considered and timely communications support.  
  • Client Administration: responsible for the provision of monthly and annual reporting of PR activity to clients as well as overseeing the management of press lists, and attending and reporting on client meetings and media interviews.
  • Marketing Responsibilities as part of the team, identifying creative subject matter for blogging on the company’s website, and exploiting that content via social media channels.
  • New Business Development: working with colleagues to identify appropriate, targeted new business opportunities and to assist with research in preparation for agency pitches to convert these potential opportunities into new clients.
  • Business Networking: including regular engagement with, or attendance at events involving lawyers, barristers and intermediaries as well as with journalists key to the sectors in which our clients operate.

Potential Opportunities:

  • Litigation PR Support: assisting the Director with litigation PR mandates as demand requires.
  • Crisis comms: supporting the team with these instructions.


  • Only assured, experienced, eloquent, organised, efficient and professional individuals, who would instantly inspire client confidence, need apply
  • At least 3 years’ prior experience in legal/professional services communications is a pre-requisite, and a working understanding of the financial services industry is desirable
  • Innate ‘news’ sense is a must, as is the tenacity, confidence and creativity to place stories -sometimes despite the most challenging of briefs 
  • Excellent verbal and written communications skills are essential
  • Candidate must be a team player able to fit within the close-knit, down-to-earth and collaborative culture of our small agency
  • Flexibility, reliability, self-motivation, discretion and trustworthiness are crucial
  • Strong IT and social media skills are important    
  • A positive outlook and calm demeanour when under pressure is key.


  • Hours: Full time
  • Salary:  Depending on experience 
  • 2 references to be supplied on request. 

The role is open to all who have a right to work in the UK.  Applications, submitted in confidence, should take the form of a CV and cover letter to be addressed to Melanie Riley, Bell Yard Communications (   

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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