Law Society issues milestone climate change guidance for conveyancers    


The Law Society has set out its guidance on how to manage climate risks for conveyancers and other solicitors, which it says “will affect most clients and nearly all areas of legal practice”.  

The body adds: “The effects of climate change are wide-ranging and constantly evolving. It will be important for solicitors to be aware of this changing landscape and its potential impact upon your organisation, as well as your legal advice.”  

Its guidance comes against the backdrop of the 2008 Climate Change Act, which commits the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030 and 78% by 2035 and then reduce emissions by 100% from their 1990 levels by 2050.  

The paper sets out how organisations should manage their business in relation to the transition to net zero.  

But it also offers guidance on the legal risks of climate change for lawyers, how this impacts their professional duties and the impact on solicitor-client relationships.  

The report splits climate change risks into three categories:  

  • Physical risks – extreme weather events may impact the built and natural environment, for example: infrastructure, transport, the built environment and agriculture. These may have a significant impact on commercial and corporate transactions affecting asset resilience, value and insurability and generating climate legal risks.  
  • Transition risks — policy, legislative, regulatory and market changes to support the just transition to a net zero economy. This could include legislation requiring mandatory carbon reporting, to report on carbon footprints or a requirement to produce climate transition plans.  
  • Liability risks — legal liabilities for law firms, governments and organisations from people or businesses seeking compensation for losses arising in relation to physical or transition risks. Businesses may be sued by those impacted by climate change for their contribution to climate damage.  

The paper says: “Climate change gives rise to a huge range of risks — and opportunities — for organisations and solicitors.”  

Under a solicitor’s duty of care to a client, they “may have to look beyond the narrow scope of an instruction by a client to consider whether and to what extent climate legal risks are relevant”.  

The guidance adds: “A solicitor has a duty to warn a client about potential risks by pointing out hazards of a kind which should be obvious to the solicitor but that the client may not appreciate.”  

The paper says that when dealing with their clients on climate change issues lawyers should consider the nature of the client’s operations and interests, the specifics of the matters, the legal services offered and the impact of the issue on the clients, the transaction, the climate and the public.  

But it adds that lawyers should not stray out of their competence when dealing with green issues.  

It says: “A solicitor who does not have the relevant knowledge of the impact of climate change on the legal area they are advising on should not advise if it is outside their knowledge or competence.”  

Groundsure chief executive Dan Montagnani says: “The Law Society is the first professional legal organisation in the world to issue climate guidance to its membership and it is to be commended for that.   

“Climate risks — be they physical, transition, or liability risks — are already affecting the value of land and buildings in England and Wales.”  

Barrister Stephen Tromans KC of 39 Essex Chambers adds: “We can already see that climate change is having a significant effect on assets in some areas of the UK, through flooding, coastal change and extreme weather conditions.   

“Unfortunately these effects are only going to increase in severity, frequency and geographical extent. As well as the physical impacts, there will be economic effects on property values, the ability to sell property and raise finance on it, and to insure it.   

“These must surely be risks which engage a solicitor’s general duty to protect his or her client’s interests, to inform, to warn and to help interpret available information, if necessary in conjunction with other specialists and experts.”   

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