The Chancery Lane Project: an interview with Matt Gingell

May 11, 2022

profile picture of matt gingellThe Chancery Lane Project’s aim is to “create new, practical contractual clauses” as a means of delivering solutions to climate change. It is gaining real global momentum as a concept, with companies across industries looking at tangible steps they can take in response to the climate emergency. 

Committee members Damian Croker and Francesca Lofts spoke with the project’s founder, Matt Gingell, for his thoughts on the uptake of these clauses within the technology sector, and to find out what tech lawyers can do to assist with the forwards march to a net zero sustainable future. Matt’s focus on collaboration, and the opportunities available to lawyers in their quest to find a purpose and to make a measurable difference, is inspiring. The Sustainability and ESG Committee is very pleased to share some of those key thoughts with you. 

Q: What is The Chancery Lane Project?

“Put simply it’s a pro bono project to fight climate change, but it’s so much more than that. At its heart is innovation. It is truly ground-breaking because we bring lawyers together from around the globe to use their transactional drafting skills to affect immediate change on climate issues.

Our vision is simple and bold. It’s a world where every contract and every law enables those solutions to climate change that we really need. Our purpose is to create those practical legal solutions using collaborative problem solving. 

We’ve blended tech concepts into the process of creation, by using hackathons as a methodology for creative thinking. In November 2019 we had 120 lawyers in a room in Canary Wharf, hacking the problem of climate change. We had an ideas creation phase where we looked at the problems, threw down loads of ideas and people then drafted the solutions (instead of coding the solutions) in the afternoon. That’s my tech background that’s brought that to the fore, I think.”

Q: Do you believe that effective drafting on its own can be the impetus for change of attitude in any company towards the environment?

“There’s no silver bullet to climate change, but the power of the pen and the agency of the drafting lawyer cannot be overstated. Contracts drive our economies and our ways of life, and they create this global deployment system for climate solutions and other ESG issues in a way that’s both immediate and lasting. Unlike laws, contracts cross borders; they don’t take time for government to understand and consult and do research, and their reach is therefore profound. If that drafting is in a precedent contract, it’s much more likely to become part of the actual deal. If it’s seen in the contract precedents on both sides of the transaction, it’s more likely that the economy has shifted.

If we change the precedent, we will change the world and it’s as simple as that.”

Q: What kind of take up have you had? Has it been mostly in the UK?

“The uptake has been phenomenal. In less than two years we’ve had over 2300 solicitors, barristers and academics from over 290 organisations around the world be involved, including many of the top law firms and global international companies. 

There are numerous case studies of US based tech companies and companies in in the UK all using clauses or derivatives of the clauses. There’s translations going on into South American jurisdictions. There’s a really strong Asia Pacific group that’s being run out of Australia. It’s had that global effect and certainly the pivot to online video conferencing has helped that.”

Q: Do you think there’s a risk that climate drafting is going to disadvantage suppliers or third parties in countries which have less sophisticated infrastructure than suppliers based in the global north?

“This risk is acknowledged by many procuring net zero for their supply chains, and certainly an orderly transition will require collaboration with supply chains. It’s not [about] trying to catch them out, it’s about trying to work with them collaboratively to share the opportunity.

If the scoring matrix is right for the ESG model that a business or a law firm are using, then it should pick up on whether you’re pushing and cascading not just climate issues, but other issues down into your supply chains, such as diversity or living wages. We have some drafting around social fairness, and climate fairness, starting to creep in. 

The recent World Economic Forum climate change risk report makes it very clear that a disorderly transition caused by the Western world transitioning quickly creates systemic risk that will cascade and affect everyone everywhere. We can’t just box it up and put it in one territory; we all have to achieve it together. Collaboration like you see in tech teams is really important for all of the conversations and the journeys that we’re all on.”

Q: Do different sectors require different approaches from their advisors when it comes to implementing The Chancery Lane Project’s clauses? Do you tend to get the same feedback across industries?

“Some of the drafting will pervade every industry, but then you get very specific industry issues. Certainly, your members could easily come to us and collaborate on a on a tech based series of events to implement solutions that are specific to the industry.

There’s considerable opportunity in each sector. The lawyers who participate are the experts in their sectors, so they have that sector specific knowledge that that is required to deploy these clauses.”

Q: Bearing in mind the high carbon footprint of the tech industry in general, and given your background in law, do you sense any reluctance on the part of tech companies to consider using The Chancery Lane Project’s clauses? Do you think anything needs to happen to change that?

“I think we’re finding the opposite. Tech companies recognise the footprint they have, and they’ve always been the vanguards of innovation. Their in-house teams are adopting that kind of mantra as well.  Many of the big tech companies across the world have set the most ambitious Net Zero targets of all and want to take out all the carbon they’ve ever created. 

Think how many companies are hosted in the cloud on the [larger tech organisations’] platforms; it’s enormous. If they’re taking the lead and they recognise that they are part of the Scope 3 emissions of lots of tech companies by hosting their environments as well, then I think they recognise that bigger picture.

Whether these targets are at the same level or lower in smaller and medium sized tech companies, or those that manufacture tech, is unclear, but certainly I’ve seen a lot of ambition from tech companies to accelerate the change and they want to be involved.

This is where the race to zero is a really great idea because you’ve got to bring everybody with you. There’s no point in in Microsoft and Apple and Amazon getting there first and nobody else being anywhere near Net Zero, because that’s not how the world and the emissions problem is manifested.

It’s the opportunities for innovation in tech to bring everybody with you that is really exciting.”

Q: Do you see any conflict between advancing technology and the environment?

“I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that question! My view is that there isn’t an absolute conflict, but there are certainly tensions. Tech advancement, new tech and tech efficiency will be required in order to solve some of these climate problems and accelerate our transition to a decarbonised society.

The technology sector is the best at creating data and using that data; they will be able to read into that data in the best way.

I also think that advancing technology is absolutely necessary to create exponential change and create this positive disruption, because we’re so far behind on the emissions reductions we need to make. I think technology is the only way we’ll be able to do that.”

Q: Do you have any tips for lawyers on approaching their clients with The Chancery Lane Project’s clauses? How would you advise and start that conversation with our businesses and clients?

“A fundamental part of the ethos of The Chancery Lane Project is not to tell people what to do; lawyers know their clients best. 

But what I would say is that as of November last year, 60% of the FTSE companies had a net zero target. This is a fundamental promise to the world, to shareholders, to other stakeholders, to their employees that they are in this transition.

I see a net zero target as a service level agreement with the world, which cascades into everything you do. It’s this massive opportunity for lawyers to approach their clients and say “look, I’ve seen you set this objective, this is how we think we can help you meet it through drafting” or “should we do an event where we look at some of your contracts and collaborate on it?”

It’s a really exciting juxtaposition; the environmental and social benefits against these business opportunities and business benefits. A win-win situation that makes people want to be involved.

We run sessions about how to deploy the clauses in sector based environments so that people can understand from others who are willing to share what has worked for them or what hasn’t. It’s not about us giving tips, it’s about people collaborating and learning what has worked and what hasn’t. 

Start with learning the objectives and then start the drafting, creating a conversation with the counterparty. When you understand the [counterparty’s] issues you can find the solutions and ultimately that’s what we do as lawyers. We solve problems for clients.”

Q: What’s next for The Chancery Lane Project? Where is it going?

“I think it’s faster and further. It’s fully pro bono for me but we’re very fortunate to have a paid team who are working on a strategy of how we go into new regions around the world, and how we measure the effect of the contracts – because there’s no point in having these contracts if they’re not having any effect on the ground.

We want to do ourselves out of a job! I want every piece of the drafting to be in a law firm precedent bank and I want law firms to be able to do it themselves. I want Practical Law, LexisNexis and other precedent and know how providers to just have it in their precedents as standard. Then it becomes a new market norm. New market norms show that society has moved, and it allows our legislators to be even more ambitious which pushes the legislation on again. It’s a continual cycle of iteration, in the same way that a tech project brings out various versions. The innovation becomes the standard, and then you innovate again to keep ahead of the market. 

It feels like it’s the start of the journey rather than the end of the journey, and there will be huge amounts of exciting drafting still to come. I think that’s why people get really excited and animated [about it]. 

I still can’t believe how much time has been donated by lawyers to this project and it just fills me with happiness because I think lots of people have struggled when they’ve gone into law with “why am I doing this? What’s the purpose?”. Hopefully what we have done is shown that you can have a really fulfilling, rewarding day job that is still aligned to delivering social, environmental, big picture goals. 

For me, if we have changed the world a little bit or changed the profession a little bit then that’s really exciting. As a lawyer and a father that gives me hope and optimism for the future.

Just to finish on an anecdote. When I was attending that first fated meeting in London Climate Action Week [from which The Chancery Lane Project was born], Pen Hadow, who is one of the best navigators in the world, was wandering around trying to find the venue that his event was being held at, and I had to help him find it. Somebody who’s that skilled in navigation still needs a helping hand sometimes. We all need that helping hand and we should be willing to ask others and collaborate with others to get to where we need to be on our journey.”

Matt’s Recommended Further Reading

  • Mike Berners Lee “How Bad Are Bananas”: Mike Berners Lee talks clearly about the carbon footprint of everything from even sending an email.
  • Bill Gates “How to Avoid a climate Disaster”: Bill Gates talks about opportunities and economic context to show that the solutions are there. He breaks the issues into the simplest form.

The full podcast is available [here].

Interviewers: Damian Croker and Francesca Lofts

Edited by: Imogen Armstrong