Pro Bono for Mother Nature

As the days grow longer and the sun shines brighter, we are all eager to head outside and enjoy the summer season. Spending time outdoors reminds us how valuable and important it is to preserve our natural environment.  As we have previously reported, there are many opportunities that bypass both traditional and business conflicts for pro bono lawyers to use their legal skills to further environmental protections.

A number of Law Firm Pro Bono Project member firms and Challenge® signatories are devoting significant time and resources to eco pro bono work.  Notable examples include:

  • Baker McKenzie* represented the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) for polluting the Chicago River System. Three of MWRD’s sewage treatment plants were dumping excess phosphorous into the river system, causing an explosion of algae blooms. Algae blooms are a threat to nearby organisms because they deprive the water of oxygen, leading the organisms to die. Baker McKenzie helped the NRDC reach a settlement with the MWRD that requires the MWRD to upgrade their pollution controls by 2030, and mandates the MWRD join a committee dedicated to creating plans to eliminate algal issues in the most problematic areas.
  • Covington & Burling* advised SolarAid, and its social enterprise arm SunnyMoney, in their work to alleviate poverty in Africa by building a sustainable market for solar lights, which will create new jobs and inject money into the local economy. Their mission is to eradicate the use of unhealthy and unsafe kerosene lamps by 2020.
  • DLA Piper* worked with the United for Wildlife Transport Industry Taskforce to crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking routes.
  • Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson* successfully represented Conservation International in its effort to create a marine sanctuary off the coast of Belize. The sanctuary will be used to protect the world’s only known gathering site for the largest fish, the whale shark.
  • Hogan Lovells* represented The Barefoot College, which connects rural communities to solar, water, education, professionals, and advocacy efforts to help communities and individuals take control of their lives, wellbeing, and communities. One effort helped train 400 women in 35 different countries to become solar engineers. These women, often called “solar mamas,” will help bring light to over 20,000 homes.
  • White & Case* provided significant legal research to WaterLex, which works to secure the human rights to water and sanitation through law and policy reform. Approximately 50 lawyers across ten offices researched existing water legislation in five countries as part of a “Country Water Governance Mapping” effort.

In addition, the firm is addressing the collateral consequences of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, by joining forces with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Education Law Center to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of children in Flint, who were exposed to lead-contaminated water.  Lead exposure impairs cognition and is associated with an array of learning and behavioral challenges. These children, however, have been denied the special education services that are their right under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Michigan state law.

Through their time and effort, pro bono lawyers can make a significant and meaningful impact, while fulfilling our responsibility to be good stewards of the planet. To learn more about pro bono opportunities and strategic partnerships with public interest and advocacy organizations, check out the Law Firm Pro Bono Project’s publication Saving the Planet, One Pro Bono Matter at a Time, which is available in our Resource Clearinghouse.

* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory
† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® Member

Hat tip to PBI interns Kelsey Muniz and Patrick MacDonald for their help with this post.