Yale Daily News

Yale Law School students protested an elite law firm’s ties to ExxonMobil at a recruitment event for Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLC.

Around 40 protesters gathered at Atelier Florian, a local Belgian brasserie, where they unfurled a banner reading “#DropExxon,” and began chanting and delivering speeches demanding that the firm stop representing the oil giant. Thursday’s event followed a similar incident at the Harvard Law School, where some students similarly challenged the firm to drop their client during a recruiting reception. The #DropExxon organizers also asked that law students promise to not interview with or work for Paul Weiss until the firm meets their demands. The protest marks the beginning of what organizers interviewed by the News hope will be a nationwide boycott of the firm, disrupting an established talent pipeline.

“Paul Weiss is one of several prestigious firms and it tries to cultivate a liberal reputation, highlighting its commitment to the public interest,” said protest spokesperson Karen Anderson LAW ’21. “We wanted to expose that tension and hypocrisy.”

Anderson said that the climate crisis has forced her to consider the leverage she has in a “powerful career field” as it relates to global challenges.

Protesters echoed this sentiment at the event where they condemned Exxon’s role in the climate crisis and said the firm must drop its client if it “[cares] about humanity.” They followed up with call and response chants, citing the cities and states where ExxonMobil is in active litigation against the public.

“Paul Weiss needs to recruit the next generation of lawyers to stay competitive; this is why they host fancy recruitment receptions like the one on Thursday,” protester Tim Hirschel-Burns LAW ’22 wrote in an email to the News. “However, our generation won’t stand by in the face of climate crisis, and that means that we won’t work for a firm that is doing everything it can to help Exxon evade accountability. Paul Weiss has a choice of clients, and offering elite legal firepower to Exxon only further tips the playing field in favor of climate polluters.”

Carly Margolis, an organizer at Harvard Law, emphasized in the press release that protests against Paul Weiss will not be a one-time event.

Fellow Harvard Law student Adam Regunberg said that this is a “do-or-die moment” and that only a few years remain to rein in large scale polluters. He added that Paul Weiss’s role in protecting ExxonMobil is “incompatible” with a sustainable future.

“This campaign is just getting started,” Regunberg wrote in an email to the News. “We got into law to make the world a better place, not to rig the system even further for the wealthy and powerful, and we will continue organizing the next generation of lawyers to fight for a legal industry that works for all of us.”

Paul Weiss did not respond to requests for comment.

The firm represented ExxonMobil in its most recent victory in December 2019, wherein the New York State Attorney General sought $1.6 billion in damages, claiming that ExxonMobil allegedly misled investors on the dangers of climate change.

John Besche | john.besche@yale.edu