Editorial & Opinion

Law students launch boycott of law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher

“Gibson Dunn has crossed every red line imaginable in their weaponization of the American judicial system to exacerbate the climate crisis, assault Indigenous rights, and attack lawyers like Steven Donziger who dare to challenge their corporate clients. This appalling work undermines the rule of law and is incompatible with a livable future, and as the newest generation to enter the legal field, we will have no part in it.”
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Published on December 3, 2021
By Law Students For Climate Accountability (LSCA)

Today members of Law Students For Climate Accountability (LSCA) launched a nationwide call for law students to boycott the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. In a public sign-on letter and a video announcement, students described the boycott as a response to Gibson Dunn’s work shielding corporate polluters from climate accountability, attacking the rights of Indigenous communities, and persecuting human rights lawyer Steven Donziger, whose imprisonment is a direct result of the firm’s unethical and bullying litigation strategies.

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“Today, law students across the country are sending a message that we refuse to be part of a firm whose work makes such a mockery of the principles of justice that our profession is supposed to hold dear,” said Aaron Regunberg, a student at Harvard Law School and a member of LSCA. “Gibson Dunn has crossed every red line imaginable in their weaponization of the American judicial system to exacerbate the climate crisis, assault Indigenous rights, and attack lawyers like Steven Donziger who dare to challenge their corporate clients. This appalling work undermines the rule of law and is incompatible with a livable future, and as the newest generation to enter the legal field, we will have no part in it.”

Last spring, in a letter signed by 87 law student organizations from dozens of law schools across the country, students called on Gibson Dunn to commit to an ethical standard for its fossil fuel work. With the firm’s refusal to respond, LSCA announced today that they have no choice but to refuse to participate in Gibson Dunn’s unjust work.

In their boycott letter released today, LSCA described the ways that Gibson Dunn has advanced the interests of corporations that cause immense harm to the climate and frontline communities, particularly Indigenous communities. LSCA’s 2021 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard found that Gibson Dunn conducted the second most anti-climate litigation of any law firm. Gibson Dunn has represented Dakota Access despite significant environmental impacts and its incursion on sacred Sioux land, and it currently represents a plaintiff in Brackeen v. Haaland, a lawsuit seeking to strike down the Indian Child Welfare Act, a vital law protecting against the removal of American Indian children from their communities.

And Gibson Dunn has aggressively litigated to ensure that Chevron evades liability for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste that did irreversible environmental damage, and caused widespread cancer and birth defects among Indigenous and campesino communities in Ecuador. To further that work, Gibson Dunn helped mastermind a wholly unprecedented campaign of coercion, bribery, and persecution against Steven Donziger, the attorney representing the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. For the “crime” of refusing to endanger vulnerable environmental activists in Ecuador by handing over to Chevron years of sensitive communications with his clients, Mr. Donziger was kept under house arrest for two years – an act the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights decried as illegal under international law – and was recently sentenced to six months imprisonment. He surrendered himself on October 27.

These scorched-earth tactics are not new to Gibson Dunn, which has been fined by the Montana Supreme Court for “legal thuggery” and “blatantly and maliciously trying to intimidate” its opponents. A New York federal judge sanctioned the firm for “unacceptable shenanigans,” and a California federal judge found Gibson Dunn’s misconduct to be “a product of a culture which permeates” the firm. But Gibson Dunn’s extraordinary campaign to prevent Indigenous Ecuadorians from receiving relief by attacking Mr. Donziger represents a dangerous escalation of these tactics, and a tremendous threat to all future environmental plaintiffs and their advocates.

“As law students, we fear that Gibson Dunn’s strategic lawsuits against public participation (‘SLAPP’ suits) will deter aspiring lawyers from helping clients redress harm by corporations that could similarly demonize, attack, and coerce opposing counsel,” said Haley Czarnek, a student at the University of Alabama School of Law and member of LSCA. “In law school we are taught to value justice and the rule of law. And so we cannot in good conscience contribute to a firm like Gibson Dunn, which continues to flout these principles in such increasingly destructive ways.”

LSCA’s boycott announcement was met with excitement by a number of prominent figures in the legal field. Martin Garbus, one of the country’s leading trial attorneys whose past clients include luminaries like Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, Václav Havel, and Daniel Ellsberg, said, “Law firms are responsible for the social harm that they cause, and Gibson Dunn is responsible for spearheading Chevron’s quest to demonize Steven Donziger and deny justice to Indigenous peoples in the Amazon who Chevron deliberately poisoned. Law students entering this profession have a choice about who they will represent, and it’s exciting to see the next generation of lawyers taking a stand against Gibson Dunn’s unacceptable behavior.” 

Charles Nesson, Weld Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and founder of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, said, “As a law professor, I try to teach my students to approach their work ethically. By manufacturing the case against Steven Donziger, at the direct expense of poisoned Indigenous communities, Gibson Dunn has failed that test, and I’m thrilled to see young people stepping up to hold our profession to a higher standard.”

Natali Segovia, Legal Director for the Water Protector Legal Collective, said, “Gibson Dunn and Chevron’s strategies have backfired. Far from discouraging others to take up the mantle of human rights work carried by Steven Donziger, Water Protectors, and Earth Defenders, LSCA’s boycott shows that new generations of lawyers will be inspired to fight for corporate accountability and justice for the Earth and frontline communities most affected by corporate malfeasance. Gone is the era where corporations can reap the benefits of exploitation of the Earth with none of the consequences.” 

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