Natalie Armstrong Profile PhotoAside from COVID-19, climate change is one of the biggest topics on everyone’s watch list. Thankfully, governments and businesses are starting to pay more attention to this area, particularly as global pressure to tackle the crisis continues to mount. But notwithstanding the Paris Agreement and endless pledges, how much progress is actually being made? Recently, more and more City professionals, including trainee solicitors like myself, have become increasingly active in the climate change debate.

In this environment, I was eager to join my firm’s Trainee Climate Change Group which handles different ongoing projects, one being a virtual legal hackathon. Yes, virtual legal hackathon is as geeky as it sounds. Within the scope of New York Climate Week, and until 18 December 2020, The Chancery Lane Project (TCLP) has and are running a number of events, one importantly being their Big Hack. TCLP are an initiative working to mobilise the legal profession to develop new contract clauses and model laws which help fight climate change. The Big Hack was a two-day extravaganza of meetings and sessions at the start of November. During the rest of the month, the ideas put forward are being researched, finessed, and put onto paper before being turned into workable clauses, policies, and laws for businesses and parties to adopt at their leisure.

TCLP are aiming to build a reservoir of model laws and contract clauses, all underpinned by their own Glossary of Terms. They have already published their Green Papers of Model Laws (first edition) and want to build a bible of contractual clauses, a Climate Contract Playbook, for lawyers and businesses to use.

The Big Hack was however not the first rodeo for some participants as July 2020 saw Clyde & Co LLP partnering with TCLP to host its own virtual legal hackathon on climate change.

Clyde & Co’s Hackathon

Clyde & Co’s hackathon added to the Climate Contract Playbook’s third edition by bringing together a wealth of industry knowledge which spanned insurance, banking and finance, litigation, environmental law and a host of other sectors.

The beauty of virtual working meant clients and lawyers from firms across the globe could collaborate over five weeks, from the comfort of their own homes. So, how did it work? First, we gathered proposals, ‘Origin Stories’, for clauses. Individuals looked at their sectors or areas of interest where business practices could be made more climate-friendly. For example, one Origin Story looked to tackle the vast amounts of paper used during international arbitrations. Next, participants were split into seven teams; each assigned one Origin Story to develop. Zoom, Slack, Google Docs and email were all used to communicate throughout the hackathon. There was a tight schedule for introductory calls, splitting research and drafting into tranches, and having weekly ‘Community Calls’ where teams could tap into know-how on specific sticking points. Hey presto – at the end of the hackathon we had created five clauses and two model laws.

Personal Experience

I worked in a team of four other trainees organising the hackathon. This was in itself great exposure to project management, drafting, logistics, and prioritising tasks. You can read more about how the team was organised in this interview. A big task was arranging the initial communications around the hackathon and helping organise communications during the event. We had an engagement strategy which included preparing (researching, drafting, proof-reading) email snippets and LinkedIn posts on interesting climate initiatives (e.g. Climate Action 100+) and various topics (i.e. carbon capture technology, green infrastructure).

Once the hackathon was underway trainees were assigned to assist a team. Working with the team of lawyers was a great experience as I was able to meet and work with Clyde & Co colleagues, external lawyers from different global offices, and an Insurer client. Each member brought their own industry and technical knowledge to develop the clause and the client especially was able to give their opinion on what sort of drafting would work in practice. We wanted to pull together commercially robust wording so a party could lift the clause off the page and use it immediately in their contract.

Using Pro Bono and BD opportunities to enhance skills

Getting involved in pro bono and business development events is a great way to develop technical and interpersonal skills. Thinking about new and creative solutions for a business to mitigate their climate impact involved a lot of brain work. Researching specific points and drafting helped develop my technical skills. Presenting my research and debating points enhanced my written communication style, presentation and advocacy skills. Keeping my team in the loop and making sure everyone had all the information they needed at each point also required (near) military organisation. Project management skills were likewise key for liaising throughout the period with multiple groups, different support teams, organising calls and meetings around varying availability in my team, and helping ensure communications for our engagement strategy were sent when they needed to be.

On a personal motivation level, I enjoyed working with my team to create a clause which can help mobilise industry players to amend their contracts to promote effective responses to climate change risks. Model clauses such as those in TCLP’s Playbooks assist businesses to change their working practices. Changes to how global business contracts work will be one of the quickest ways to accelerate change and intensify the traction needed for a sustainable future.

By Natalie Armstrong, trainee solicitor, Clyde & Co