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July 28 - How are top law firms advising clients in the hot ESG practice area?

Reuters Legal wanted to find out, so we put together a panel of sustainability experts who created a fictitious tractor company facing environmental, social and governance issues.

We asked law firms to give fictitious Brighton Tractor Supply Co advice that takes advantage of ESG lawyers’ creativity and ingenuity in this growing legal field.

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Here are the 18 law firms that responded: Baker Botts; Ballard Spahr; Crowell & Moring; Fox Rothschild; Hogan Lovells; K&L Gates; King & Spalding; Kirkland & Ellis; Mayer Brown; McDermott Will & Emery; Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo; Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe; Paul Hastings; Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman; Ropes & Gray; Schiff Hardin; Stroock & Stroock & Lavan; and Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders. Their complete submissions are linked throughout this document.

The video above has more details on the project and noteworthy responses from some of the firms. We recommend you begin there. You can read the entire submissions here from the law firms specifically mentioned in the video. They are Orrick, Pillsbury, Troutman Pepper, and Kirkland & Ellis.

Here’s the complete scenario we gave the law firms:

Brighton Tractor Supply Co is a publicly traded American company with $1 billion in annual revenue. BTSC provides goods and services to industrial farm and factory operations across the country. Its supply chains are multifaceted and international. BTSC also has hazardous waste legal issues resulting from improper storage and disposal of used batteries returned to its rental and service business.

The BTSC board has reached out to your law firm because it is getting questions from investors and customers about the sustainability of the company. Also, BTSC is now considering co-designating one of its vice presidents as its chief sustainability officer.

To provide the best service to BTSC, what are the three key things you would recommend to help the company get started in prioritizing its environmental, social and governance issues?

We don’t expect you to spend more than one to two hours on this project. Submissions should be in the range of 500 to 1,000 words.

Our experts liked aspects of many of the firms’ responses, which we gave to them as anonymous submissions. Here’s what they said about some of those not featured in our video.

Former Symantec Corp vice president of corporate responsibility Cecily Joseph liked the response from Mayer Brown calling it “very comprehensive.” She said the firm “went to what matters” and appreciated that it “brought in overall corporate diversity as part of thinking about ESG as a whole.”

Commonwealth Professor of Environmental Law and Sustainability at Widener University Commonwealth Law School John Dernbach liked the detailed response from Ballard Spahr. “It talked about a commitment to rechargeable batteries, to net zero emissions, investing in carbon farming.” He also noted the firm gave plentiful advice to the company and argued for the value of a standalone chief sustainability officer.

Former senior negotiating attorney for the Bonneville Power Administration, Arlena Barnes was a fan of what McDermott recommended. She called its work “very clear” and said it provided the necessary context and detail without too much that would overwhelm the client.

Matt Bogoshian, a board member of the California Environmental Law and Policy Center at University of California, Davis, School of Law, appreciated the work of Baker Botts. He said, “It focused on an ESG strategy that was linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and so I think that was important.” Bogoshian also liked that Baker Botts talked about the importance of telling the story of its work because “applied sustainability in the law firm is such a big idea and we need to bring all your stakeholders together on the journey.”

Former EMC Corp chief sustainability officer Kathrin Winkler had positive comments on the response from Crowell & Moring, saying, “It had a very comprehensive view of ESG.” She cited its references to board composition, diversity, the supply chain and climate issues.

Widener University's Dernbach also had positive comments about the work of Ropes & Gray, which he said did a good job of setting goals and “making clear the value of long term versus short term goals” and thinking about how to address issues over time.

We also received responses from Paul Hastings, Schiff Hardin, Hogan Lovells, Stroock, King & Spalding, K & L Gates, Mintz, and Fox Rothschild.

Update: This story has been changed to correct Matt Bogoshian's role at UC Davis.

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Alex Cohen produces multimedia projects on legal trends, key cases, and industry issues. He can be reached at alex.cohen@thomsonreuters.com. You can follow him on Twitter @alexlcohen.

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