Harvard Students Protest After Exxon’s Law Firm Tries to Recruit Them
An elite U.S. corporate law firm flopped badly in its recent bid to recruit Harvard law students, when nearly a third of the invitees delivered a sharp rebuke for the firm’s ongoing role in defending colossal fossil ExxonMobil, making it clear they saw no kind of professional future with an organization that traffics in fossils.
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP had hoped to woo prospective articling students with an “opulent affair, replete with lobsters for snacking, an ice sculpture, and an open bar,” reports Grist. Intended as “one of many regular functions held by elite law firms to draw elite aspiring attorneys into the fold,” the Harvard event veered wildly off script when around 30 students, putting principles above networking, interrupted Paul, Weiss attorney and partner Kannon Shanmugam just as he was beginning to address the room.
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Unfurling a banner emblazoned with #DropExxon and bursting into a protest song—including the lyrics “Which side are you on?” and “Does it weigh on you at all?”—the protestors challenged Shanmugam to check his moral compass in defending a company that “knew about climate change 35 years ago, yet continued to wreck the planet” and fund the denial that has led to the climate crisis.
Having “recently successfully defended Exxon in a case brought by the state of New York over the accusation that it misled investors about the costs of climate change to its business,” Paul, Weiss is back defending Exxon against a similar suit, in a Massachusetts courtroom not far from Harvard, Grist writes.
Lead protester and law student Aaron Regunberg told Grist that such confrontational actions are “highly unusual” in the legal profession, and that many of the participants had never before been involved in a protest. “We’ve shown that our generation of aspiring lawyers understands that business as usual is a recipe for an unlivable future,” Regunberg declared.
Law students from both Boston University and Yale have expressed support for the Harvard students’ action, and Regunberg hopes to see more schools campaign to push Paul, Weiss to jettison Exxon.
Grist adds that other Ivy Leaguers are getting onboard, with “a parallel movement of students demanding that their schools divest from fossil fuel companies [making] national news in November when hundreds of protesters stormed the field at the annual Harvard–Yale football game.”