Grand summary: ILBF law undergraduate essay competition 2022-2023

In March 2023, we announced the winner of our law undergraduate essay competition 2022-2023. The response to the competition was excellent, with submissions from students across the country. We thank all entrants for participating and engaging with the question:

‘What difference can lawyers make in tackling the climate emergency?’ 

The depth of the research, insights and ideas put forward highlighted an impressive understanding of the many ways that lawyers can make a difference in tackling climate issues. All entrants demonstrated a clear sense of urgency around the climate emergency and the role lawyers can play in responding to it, as well as the power of the law as a tool for delivering climate justice.  

To continue the discussion, we have collated some key themes, actions and highlights from across this year’s submissions in this grand summary. 

Key themes

As anticipated, this year’s competition topic garnered a lot of interest and a range of views and suggestions. Among the submissions, there were a number of themes which came through. Key examples include:  

  • education/climate literacy—education was a general theme in several of the essays, both in terms of members of the legal profession increasing their own knowledge and awareness of climate issues and their role in tackling them, as well as in terms of lawyers educating others 
  • thought leadership/knowledge sharing—many submissions highlighted the role that lawyers can play in raising awareness of climate change and advocating a greener agenda, particularly among corporate clients 
  • advice—as trusted advisors, it is acknowledged that lawyers can harness their awareness and expertise by providing climate-conscious advice, increasing awareness of legal and regulatory requirements, incentives and renewable options 
  • legislation/regulation—several of the entries considered the role of lawmakers, legislation and regulation, both nationally and internationally. There was a mix of views on this point, but a consensus that climate change cannot be tackled with regulation alone  
  • climate litigation—lawyers play a key role in climate litigation, which is on the rise and can be used to ensure that governments, corporations and individuals are held responsible/accountable for their actions, as well as further raising awareness   
  • climate conscious decision-making—again, this was a general theme, both in terms of decision-making among the legal profession (eg in terms of their working practices, client base, professional activity etc), as well as their role in advocating/influencing a more climate conscious approach among colleagues, clients and the wider community 

Across these themes, and others, there were also a number of calls to action. We have selected some examples below.  

Key action points

The essays we received as part of the competition set out a number of actions which lawyers can take to mitigate climate change, in both their personal and professional lives. These include:  

  • inclusion of climate-conscious clauses in contracts—lawyers can help shape how business is conducted or how organisations operate by ensuring that climate-conscious clauses and obligations, such as those set out by the Chancery Lane Project, are included in their clients’ contracts. Incorporating climate goals in negotiations, encouraging green initiatives among corporate clients, and advising clients on how to avoid environmental harm through their actions were also common suggestions for ensuring that climate change is at the forefront of decision-making 
  • keeping up to date with developments—lawyers should educate themselves on environmental issues in order to be able to advise their clients appropriately. Whether this is done through firm-wide training, informal knowledge-sharing, joining initiatives such as the Legal Sustainability Alliance, organising events or simply reading around the subject, staying informed was seen as crucial by our essay competition participants  
  • collaboration is key—working with policy-makers to bring about changes in legislation, aligning codes of practice with net-zero goals, assisting those directly affected by climate change, or strengthening State accountability for their contribution to climate change, we must all work together to reverse, or at least halt, the effects of global warming. While everyone should do their bit, collaboration and aiming toward a common goal will being about the necessary change 
  • making climate a part of client selection—some essays suggested that climate considerations should be included as part of every law firm’s due diligence checks. This would both encourage clients to becoming more climate-conscious and emphasise that the environment and climate issues should be treated seriously by everyone. A number of entries also advocated for stronger climate litigation and ensuring that polluters are held to account  
  • leading by example—we all have the power to influence others by our daily actions and the small things we do in life, not just by our impressive achievements. If we all take steps to reduce our carbon footprint and work towards making decisions which will benefit rather than harm the environment, we will slowly influence our families, friendship groups, colleagues and communities to also start making small changes and our future will look much brighter 

Key takeaways and observations

Within the pages of this year’s submissions, common threads weave through the diverse narratives, providing a set of guiding principles and a pathway toward a more sustainable world: 

  • individual and collective responsibility—lawyers should acknowledge and embrace their moral obligation towards climate action 
  • peer and community influence—lawyers should galvanise their peers, colleagues, clients, family and friends to make climate-conscious choices 
  • legal framework and practice transformation—lawyers should maximise their role in influencing policy, advising clients, and engaging in advocacy efforts that advance climate action 
  • long-term sustainability and innovation—lawyers should leverage their legal expertise to accelerate the development and adoption of climate-friendly technologies 

Closing thoughts and acknowledgements

‘The climate crisis is the defining issue of our day, and one that can easily overwhelm.  The breadth of ideas and calls of action made in this year’s competition serve as a reminder that all of us – even lawyers – have a part to play in addressing it.’

Carla Lewis, Senior Associate, associate lead Clifford Chance climate change risk team, Clifford Chance LLP

Once again, we wish to thank all the entrants for their thought-provoking submissions, and to congratulate our competition winner, Clarissa Wong, and runner up, Nurisabela Amira Shah, for their success. The further resources section below contains links to their essays. 

Our thanks to all the judges, and in particular to Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd and Lord Carnwath of Notting Hill CVO for the final judging and their support for the competition. Our thanks also to our expert contributors and everyone who participated in all of our competition events and recordings.

Finally, we would also like to thank Latham & Watkins for sponsoring the competition this year and for their invaluable support for the ILBF’s mission. 

Thanks to Barbora Kozusnikova, Mikaela Kritikou and Holly Nankivell, LexisNexisUK, for analysing all of the entries and creating the grand summary.

Further resources 

What’s next?

Following the success of this year’s competition, we will soon be announcing details of the ILBF law undergraduate essay competition 2023-2024. Watch this space!