Junior lawyers want the right to refuse work

updated on 21 November 2023

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A new report shows that two-thirds of junior lawyers want the right to refuse work for ethical reasons. However, the research, which was led by Dana Denis-Smith and published by Obelisk Support, found that this right is currently provided at only 18% of the respondents’ workplaces.

The study, World in Motion: why the legal profession cannot stand still, involved 72 junior lawyers and aimed to investigate “how the next generation of lawyers is expecting the legal profession to shift to a business model that prioritises sustainability beyond profitability”.

The survey addressed how workers felt their organisations were approaching important issues, such as the climate crisis. One-quarter of respondents were unsure about how their companies were combatting climate change and half said they believe some organisations were guilty of window dressing instead of tackling moral problems.

The report comes after the Law Society published guidance on the impact of climate change on solicitors, in which it says that some law firms are “placing limitations on the instructions they will accept citing their own organisation’s climate change commitments”. The guidance added: “Some solicitors may also choose to decline to advise on matters that are incompatible with the 1.5°C goal, or for clients actively working against that goal if it conflicts with your values or your firm’s stated objectives.”

The World in Motion study considered how allowing junior lawyers to make these moral decisions could help to attract more talent. Denis-Smith said: “Legal sector organisations and in-house legal teams seeking to attract and retain talented employees cannot simply up junior lawyers' pay. They need to consider the values of the organisation and its purpose. That means implementing diversity initiatives, considering environmental and sustainability credentials, and looking at the suppliers they use. For law firms and other legal services providers, it means considering which clients they are prepared to act for and the pro bono work they undertake.”