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Video Blog: The 1st Lawyers for Nature Volunteer Webinar 2022

Video Blog: The 1st Lawyers for Nature Volunteer Webinar 2022

By Lawyers for Nature

We are very grateful to the attendees at this year's inaugural LFN volunteer webinar that took place on 19.01.22, in which we were able to introduce ourselves and describe the strategic vision for our blooming community. Please watch the edited video below for a flavour of what's in store in 2022, and be sure to check out the Discord for more information.

For the benefit of our community who prefer to read, an edited transcript is also available below, with interview style headers. For those of you that were unable to make this event, we will be hosting another in the coming months. Of course, before then, there will be more regular meet-ups directly with the team; Paul, Brontie, Alice and Krish, so please feel free to just get involved.

We welcome you to our community and look forward to the year ahead.

Hi everyone. I'm Paul. Lovely to see you all. I am in my day job, a barrister at Garden Court and I have a number of other jobs, one of which is co-founder of Lawyers for Nature and Head of our Legal team and the other is founder of the River Roding Trust. And I join you from sitting in the River Roding as we speak. I'm currently on my boat, sat on the river, just to let you know where I'm coming from.

So, I'm sure like many of you, the work that I'm doing, both in terms of legal and nature protection activism, has been on something of a journey. And effectively for me to cut it short, I sort of fell in love with nature in my twenties and was working as a civil commercial barrister in London.

On my weekends and in my free time I was doing more and more activism around climate, nature protection, trying to save trees, trying to plant trees, doing litter picks, that kind of thing. And really began to realise that the two parts of my world were too far apart. I was sort of in my day job, just doing ordinary commercial law with nothing to do with nature, and then was doing a lot of stuff outside of it, for the protection and restoration of nature.

And so I began to think how can I start to connect those two again? And it feels like a big leap as I'm sure many of you may have experienced this idea of Environmental Law as something separate, you know, I didn't study Environmental Law. I never trained in it. It's its whole area in itself.

I didn't know quite how to make the leap, but I started looking around and eventually I, like all good things, went to Facebook and wrote on a group for people who are really into trees. Is there a group of lawyers who are giving their time for free to protect trees? And no one could say, no one knew of anywhere, but someone said you should get in touch with the people in Sheffield.

At that point, I didn't know what Sheffield was. But as many of you may know it was one of the biggest and most successful nature protection campaigns of the last decade where effectively local people in Sheffield rose up against the plans of the council to chop down seventeen and a half thousand street trees.

And over the course of a number of years and much, much difficulty we're ultimately successful in that. And the trees were saved and I wrote an initial advice for them, which really helped their campaign, at a crucial juncture. I don't like to take too much credit for my role in the Sheffield Street Trees Campaign, because really it was won by the dedicated actions of local people on the ground who turned out day after day, sometimes up to two years to stand under trees, to protect them.

But at that moment, what they desperately needed was advice from a lawyer. And I was able to give that and it really was massively important in them being able to continue their campaign. And seeing the resounding success in Sheffield where thousands, seventeen and a half thousand trees were effectively saved from destruction; would have completely transformed the city, and seeing what importance just a small legal intervention at just the right point had, made me think, there should be some kind of group to enable this intervention to be made. And that's when I started thinking about setting up some kind of group, initially, it was going to be Lawyers for Trees. But after some thought, I thought I would go wider and decided on Lawyers for Nature.

And since then it's been gradually expanding. So, Brontie was one of the first people to come onboard and has been really crucial ever since then. And we've gradually been expanding the team and getting more and more volunteers on board.

That's where Lawyers for Nature started, where I see it going is in keeping a lot of that initial raison d'être, i.e. that strategic, really crucial support for grassroots nature protection campaigns in the UK, but combining that with much more, higher level campaigning, activism and inspiration around the Rights of Nature and the way that law relates to nature. Because I think all of us on this call probably know that that relationship is ultimately broken and broken in, in a way that it feels often irretrievable, but I believe fundamentally needs to be reshaped. And I really see one of the key things that I see Lawyers for Nature doing is combining that really granular, fine grassroots campaign support with bold ideas for changing the entire way that the legal system relates to nature and that can happen across different spheres.

So, we can support grassroots campaigns in trying to save a specific tree or stop pollution going into a specific river, but we can also inform those campaigns about the Rights of Nature and ways in which they can campaign on Rights in Nature. And we saw that last year. So, a group of campaigners from the River Cam wanted to try and stop over abstraction of their river.

And I said, well, legally it's not a huge amount of that can be done on that in the current framework. However, have you thought about Rights of Nature as a campaigning tool? And then they went on to declare the rights of that river and that's really galvanised local campaigning and activism around the protection of their river.

We can also do it within the legal profession as a whole. So, something that I see Lawyers for Nature doing is transforming the way that lawyers relate to nature. And that's again at all different levels. So, it's so amazing to see so many students as part of our community. And even to be honest, just getting students to come across and believe in and to see the Rights of Nature being enacted is something that I think is a really important role that Lawyers for Nature has.

But also to change it within the profession and something we're talking about doing this year, which I would love to do and love people's ideas and input on, is a weekend away which combines talks and workshops and nature connection around the theme of Rights of Nature, Wild Law, and what it means to be a nature lawyer in the times that we're in.

And as part of that, I wrote an article for Counsel Magazine that just came out last week, which talks about Rights of Nature, and how it's developing and just tells barristers about it. Because many don't even know about it. And that's an exciting role that we have as well.

And then more broadly in society. I think that changing the way that we as a society protect nature is important. I fundamentally believe we need to move away from a kind of, "we don't like this, we're against development, we don't want this", that sort of campaigning into a more inspirational, "we love nature, we believe in the Rights of Nature and talking about the spiritual connection with nature is important and I really believe that's a role that Lawyers for Nature can do.

I find that quite difficult to say because almost everybody has a role that they can play. So, for legal student volunteers, there's huge amounts that can be done in terms of research.

Just at the moment we're talking to a leading online campaigning organisation about what Rights of Nature projects they might be willing to support around the world, which is very exciting, they have a huge reach and a huge base and we'd love, for instance, student volunteers to help us research what is actually going on with Rights of Nature.

Which of course will happen to have lots of ways that material can be used to do the things I've just spoken about. So, inform people about the Rights of Nature and say what's going on. And also to go to the very basis of what Lawyers for Nature started out as being i.e. helping and informing local groups.

This one's quite difficult because it's often quite ad hoc. So, if you were to say to me, how can I help people protect trees or local groups protect trees? I can't necessarily say right now because they come in when they come in and when they come in, it's often quite fast, but that's why we have the Discord is to be able to have a place where people can gather, we can then place these enquiries as they come in and they do come in.

And what's amazing for student volunteers is the fact that when I was a student, I found a lot of the voluntary work to be a bit made up. Was it actually having a massive impact? But here in all honesty, there's so much need for this research and for advice to local groups, that anything that student volunteers are able to do is likely to have a big impact in terms of protecting and saving nature.

Just a brief advice to a local group who is having a tree threatened on their village green can make a massive difference to them and help save that tree. And also more broadly research around Rights of Nature and how we begin to implement it in the system. And to me, that's in some ways one of the most exciting things of all, because we're effectively generating a whole new area of jurisprudence.

Again at university I often got quite bored; the articles or essays just reiterating what someone else had said and coming up and just restating their point over and over again. This is new. We need to come up with the Rights of Nature, how do we implement it? And to me, that's a very exciting thing to get involved in and to be a part of, and for law students who want to do it, we think Lawyers for Nature offers an amazing platform.

So, if you have an idea around... how does money and funding interact the Rights of Nature? For instance, if you want to write a blog piece, then we would happily publish that. And so you can start getting your ideas out there to an audience of people and start contributing to that. To me, that's a really amazing thing.

There's many other ways as well. You know, for instance, people who aren't legally qualified can often offer amazing support to other local groups. So, we have many people who we've already assisted in nature protection campaigns, even just the basics of "how do I begin to set up a local campaign to save a tree" and stop people reinventing the wheel.

What we've often done is just put people in touch with other activists who've done it before, and they can just tell other people in a non-legal way, how you begin to set up that campaign. It's really invaluable. And that's a huge role as well. And something that people can get involved in. So in short, there are multiple different ways to bring your talents depending on what skills you have, but also what you want to do. And different people get very excited about different things. So, I've only really just begun to scratch the surface of the kind of things you could do.

And if you want to talk more about it, whether that's just a specific idea for something Lawyers for Nature could do or how you can assist Lawyers for Nature, or if you don't even have a specific idea, but want to get involved and want to discuss that, we'd happily facilitate more discussion-based calls where we can come up with ideas and then people can go away and do them. And we'd love to help you facilitate that.

If there's things that you have heard there that you want to get involved in, please do. And if you want to continue the discussion, please also do that or get in touch with any one of us. And we'd love to get you involved and use your talents as best they can for this great work that we have to do around nature activism, protection of nature and the promulgation of the Rights of Nature.

A short interjection by Krishan Nursimooloo on the subject of LFN's accessibility and organisational adaptability

Well, that's brilliant. Thank you very much Paul for that introduction. And I think that really covers off at a strategic level the very broad view of the future for LFN as we call it, and really the breadth of opportunity and possibility within the organisation, but also the fact that really it's an extremely flat hierarchy and irrespective of your skills or experience, there's plenty of ways in which you can contribute and grow within LFN. We're very much starting out, developing the organisation based on the people around us. There's no set agenda here.

The reponse by Paul Powlesland regarding the fact that anyone can get involved with LFN and is encouraged to do so

Thanks for reiterating that, Krish. I don't think I said it explicitly enough. You know, none of us here are the ultimate expert on all of this. And actually to link it back into what I said at the very beginning, what Lawyers for Nature ultimately is, it's a way of being able to bridge that big jump that I spoke about; how do I go from just being a law student or someone interested in law, or a local activist into actual legal nature protection. It feels like a big jump. And I think Lawyers for Nature is very much a platform that can help people make that jump in all different ways, depending on what they want to do.

Hello, everyone. Thanks so much for coming today. It's an immense privilege to speak to a wall of activists and students and clients and campaigners. So, really appreciate your time today. I'll be quite quick because Paul has covered off a lot of what we needed to cover anyway, in terms of where Lawyers for Nature is going.

Just very briefly, just to give you a bit of background on me because you may work with Paul, or you may work with me or someone else in the team. I'm a senior lecturer at the University of Essex. So, there's going to be a symbiotic relationship there and people working with me in Lawyers for Nature may well end up working with University of Essex students, for example.

My origin story is based in climate grief, so I just wanted to talk a little bit about climate grief quickly. I had been to a climate summit in 2018 and I was just feeling so completely useless and overwhelmed and feeling like every single time I moved in the world, I was polluting it or putting rubbish into it or using energy that was precious.

And I felt similar to Paul really. I felt my day job was just not in any way linking me to nature. At the same time, I discovered paddleboarding and was paddleboarding regularly, twice a week on my river, and could see physically, face-to-face, the level of pollution in the river, which was disgusting and started looking into statistics like e-coli bacteria, pollution in the river, sewage in the river, and was just disgusted with how Southern Water behaved in particular.

It just coincided with me attending UKELA, which is an Environmental Law association and being on WhatsApp with my friend saying "there's a chap here called Paul Powlesland, it'd be nice to meet him". And she saying, "oh, I know him, I'm on WhatsApp with him and saying he's at this conference".

And it just so happened we were literally sitting right next to each other and both on WhatsApp to our joint friend, Emma, who then set up a group and introduced us. And Paul turned around and said, "is that you, I might be talking to you on WhatsApp and you're sitting right behind me, which is very odd". And that ended up with Paul and I was sitting in a cafe in Croydon for about two hours, sketching out what then became Lawyers for Nature, which as Paul said, started off as Lawyers for Trees.

And that was in 2019. Obviously the pandemic hit and we've battled our way through, becoming a completely online organisation through the pandemic and now wanting to move back into more physical events, and so on and so forth. So for me, it was the grief of living in a climate emergency and finding a tribe, which at that point was just Paul and I, and finding sympathy and a sense of purpose.

I would say to you that joining Lawyers for Nature is an excellent idea if you are feeling the way I was in that you just don't know what to do, or you don't know how much to do, or you don't know where to start.

In that we believe that we can do these little things, big things, policy things, help for clients, for example. And we can just make a difference every day or every week or every month. And of course, you know, we can't steer governments. We can't stop Big Oil, but you're doing something and it does feel worth getting out of bed for. And so I've really enjoyed finding my tribe here and growing and learning as a lawyer.

Paul is a barrister and I am a solicitor. I'm also a lecturer in law. And we are insured to give some legal advice. Although we can't go all the way to litigation as a named law firm, because we're not a registered law firm.

Paul and I tend to share the Legal department and he tends to do the quick stuff, which is turn up at a tunnel, turn up at a tree and help. And I tend to do the longer term transactional stuff, which is advising on things like dodgy planning decisions; longer term movements by public bodies or developers and things like that. So, I have some volunteers that have already been working with me and they do direct legal advice with me.

So they'll write up the legal advice and they will maybe present it in a Zoom call, for example. I supervise that advice as the solicitor, unless of course they are a solicitor themselves. If you are a law student and you'll be working with me under supervision until you're qualified.

It doesn't matter if you're a first year law student or if you're just about to qualify as a solicitor, come along and there'll be work for you to do with me. We have a number of enquiries every week where people are desperate for legal advice. So, there's always something to do. I don't really mind where you are in your cycle, whether you're right at the beginning of your legal career, whether you are very well qualified. As I say, everyone's welcome.

So where we can, I split my time between giving legal advice and doing legal research within Lawyers for Nature. What I would say is, in terms of my strategic vision for Lawyers for Nature, along with everything that Paul's already said, I really do think that ultimately Lawyers for Nature can become a key organisation in the movement to protect the natural world. And I do think there's a place for it alongside some of the bigger players that have existed for 30, 40, 50 years.

I do think that bringing lawyers on board and bringing the professions into a Rights of Nature debate is really important. And I also feel like it's a huge privilege, but also a huge responsibility to have direct contact with young, upcoming lawyers.

And I see it as one of our responsibilities to mold and shape upcoming lawyers into Lawyers for Nature and into learning to protect the natural world. Whether they go on to be big commercial lawyers in the city, we think that we've got a role to play in shaping young, young-ish minds or possibly not so young minds, but young in terms of their professional legal career, into believing in the Rights of Nature and to changing the law for the better for future generations.

The other related part of my responsibility within Lawyers for Nature is the development of research, which I share with Paul. We push and pull on different projects together. We are quite keen to be at the forefront of some cutting-edge research in terms of how we can use Rights to Nature in the corporate world, for example, how we can use it in a political world, how we use it in the legal world generally and how we can hold certain public bodies to account in terms of shaping their responsibilities to society and to future generations.

So, this is a group and a tribe with quite lofty and ambitious ideals, but it will give you a sense of purpose and it will ultimately I believe help massively in the climate emergency.

If you need your work supervising, then I'm available to do that. If you don't need supervision because you're already a solicitor, then you can just work alongside me. And we can look at giving advice. I think practically speaking, I would say to you that the vast majority of my time in Lawyers for Nature is on a Thursday and Friday. If you are organised and can time it right, sending an email at nine o'clock on a Thursday morning is likely to get you an instant response, whereas sending one on Friday at five o'clock, you're probably not going to hear from me until the following Thursday. So, that's the practicalities of how I work and that's purely just working around my teaching and lecturing at Essex.

I'll pass over to Alice who's next on the list.

Great. Thank you, Brontie. I will also be relatively quick. I think I have quite a similar kind of narrative background to Paul and Brontie, but a little bit parallel. So, after getting a modern languages degree I did the law conversion and then felt funnelled into a training contract in the City.

And then it felt like time just went by like that. And I woke up five years in and realised that my team, while they were lovely, I really wasn't loving just facilitating endless mergers and acquisitions in my day job with no thought about the environment. And then at the weekend I was getting out into nature, you know, green spaces by the water.

My life just felt split into two and I really needed to link them and use my skills; my legal skills, project skills to actually help protect the environment. So, it just so happened that I heard about Paul just at the moment when I was having this awakening. So it felt like that was meant to be in a way.

So, I think what happened was I came across someone called Zion Lights, which is a great name. And at the time she was the spokesperson for XR; Extinction Rebellion. She's since moved on from that, but she was one of the panel speakers at in fact another UKELA panel event and Paul wasn't speaking, but her speech as compared to an array of gray suited straight-laced lawyers on the panel, I just found really moving.

It was all about climate grief and using taking actions to regain hope and overcome these feelings of anxiety. And she was challenging the other lawyers on the panel. And it just felt like a message that I needed to take action myself. So I stayed behind after the event, went up to her, we had quite a good chat.

And when she heard that I was a lawyer, she just said, "if you're a lawyer and you're interested in protecting the environment you need to get in touch with Paul Powlesland, the barrister on the boat, because he's creating new ideas, new ways of thinking. He's interested in rights of nature, he's involved in all these networks".

And then I met Paul, I think we went for a drink or coffee and just realised we had similar kinds of values and aims. And so, through getting to know Paul, I also recognise I was quite privileged that I was able to quit my city job in 2020, just before the pandemic hit, and started working from home and then almost everyone else suddenly was as well.

So that was a quite confusing, and enrolled on an Environmental Law Masters, so that's what I'm doing, part-time at UCL.

So, I'm studying Environmental Law, but I'm working with Lawyers for Nature, in particular in the Funding team.

I'm quite interested, beyond the legal side of things, in strategy, projects and funding. And so leading the Funding team, in terms of my vision of the future for Lawyers for Nature, it's all about getting a sustainable funding model.

At the moment we're receiving donations here and there, particularly from clients and community groups that Paul and Brontie and others have already helped. We've saved local green spaces or trees or areas that are important to community groups. And then occasionally we get a donation off the back of that, which is great. So, I'm using that as a starting point and coming up with a strategy around building a sustainable funding model, looking at environmental grant funders, crowdfunding and donations, and then also a commercial subscription model a bit further down the line.

What I like about working on the funding side of things is the strategic side of things, but also that it's all about telling a story. Basically, getting funders or anyone interested in donating money Lawyers for Nature. We really need to be telling our amazing background story, our narrative, talking about our impact, who we've helped, what we want to do in the future. And you guys can help us write that story and to find the story. So that's quite exciting.

So, Funding much like Comms, you don't need legal skills. You can bring any and all skills; lawyers, non-lawyers, professionals, students. We really need an array of skills and viewpoints and everyone's welcome. Skills that fit well with Funding, I would say either an eye for detail and research, or an aptitude for developing partnerships and communicating.

Also an interest potentially in writing, if you want to get involved in grant applications, that's more about writing persuasive narratives in those applications. And in the next few weeks, I'm planning a welcome meeting to those who are interested in this side of things. If you're interested in joining that, message me on Discord or reach out to Krish, or you can email me at alice@lawyersfornature.com and it would be great to talk further.

What I've really enjoyed, just getting to know this team, the core team, and also volunteers. We're so collaborative. As we go along, just working around our strengths; we're kind of learning as we go and we're trying to create a new form of legal entity or co-operative, it's not a law firm or a clinic technically, growing it organically and it's really enjoyable and interesting.

If you like working in that style, then please do reach out and get involved. And I'm going to hand over to Krish. Let me know any questions by email or at the end.

Thank you so much to all three of you. I think a lot of it has been covered off by my colleagues. So, I'm Krishan Nursimooloo and I'm the Head of Communications at Lawyers for Nature. My general background is in publishing, media, advertising and marketing; all sounds like the same thing, but apparently it's not.

I started my career working at Northern & Shell, so the Express Group. I went on to work for an Israeli adtech company and then became a Planner and Buyer for a digital agency called Greenlight, which is one of the largest independent digital agencies in the UK. I then went on to be a copywriter in Barcelona, working for the Volkswagen Group.

And then since the pandemic started, I've been working in marketing and communications in Bristol, for a field marketing agency whilst running my freelance copywriting business and setting up a 'purpose driven' production agency called Love Your Mother. I've been working on my first year GDL qualification at the University of Law, and I'll be restarting that in October of this year.

Since university I've been working on a range of different arts and science projects focused on nature, including one called BioModd which ran a series of events with a mutual friend of Paul Powlesland. And it was really that work that opened up my eyes to the importance of nature protection and some of the deeper conceptual ideas around nature communications.

I have limited legal experience, but hoped that I'd be able to add some some value in terms of the strategic communications side of things. So, the idea for me at least, is to transition directly into my legal career through the nature route, which is where I'd like to specialise, but also being able to import some of those those previous skills that I've acquired over the last 10 years.

So, what are the things that I'm looking to provide and support with over the course of the next year and beyond?

Well, to a large extent it's around content and supporting my colleagues and their departments and all of you in the work that you're doing. So, whether that's writing case studies for any of the legal work that the Legal team do, to producing guides and infographics by the research and education departments under Brontie, or assisting with funding applications and creating crowdfunding campaigns with Alice. Really the Communications team tessellates with each and every department.

In terms of direct projects on the communications side, we've seen some blogs on website, we're looking to scale those up, but also looking to produce what's known as anchor content with a podcast series whereby we bring on various experts in the Environmental Law field to debate the sorts of concepts that we've been talking about today and also to field enquiries and questions from community action groups that want to learn more about this type of thing. But also to talk more about grassroots projects in these types of forums, and then publish those for the benefit of all.

Really what I'm looking for in my volunteer team is a real breadth of skill, so much like Alice's side of things, it's all about storytelling. So, being able to write obviously helps because there'll be a lot of scripting, lots of social posts, blog articles. But also if you're not a writer but have editorial abilities, visual editing and film / audio abilities, then all of that can be used to great effect.

So, it really depends. Even if you have none of those skills, then there are essentially processes that you can follow that will help you acquire those skills.

That could be as simple as community management in the Discord, or it could be that you become in part responsible for some of the social scheduling that happens on our social media channels. That may be focused on Twitter, then we'll be looking to expand into other social networks as well to maximise our reach.

Really communications intersects with so many different parts of modern life. And obviously with the departments that exist at Lawyers for Nature there will be something for you to do, if you want to work in the communication side.

So we'll be using Trello in the future to manage various projects, we will have our community drive; so you'll each have a community folder for yourselves where you can share assets and off the back of this call as well, if you provided some role information in the Discord, I'll be able to open up the different channels on the Discord. So depending on whether you elect to work with Paul or Brontie or Alice or myself, there will be different channels related to different sub-projects that are happening at Lawyers for Nature.

So the idea is join the Communications team if you want to really interact with a lot of what the other departments are doing. But really at much more the polishing and amplification stage rather than it being the core research and development stage. I would say that's the main idea.

And with that I will close off.

Hi, Brontie here. I just wanted to formally welcome Elaine from The Conscious Lawyer. Elaine has offered us a takeover of The Conscious Lawyer.

So, if you are a writer and you are interested in writing for us, then Elaine and I are working together to do a September issue. And if you have a look at The Conscious Lawyer online, and get the most recent issue, you can see the kind of magazine it is, it's really amazing.

What we'd really like to do is ask for volunteers to work with Elaine and I to be part of the takeover team. So, it's going to be a Lawyers for Nature x The Conscious Lawyer takeover. And we need people to write, but also what would be really useful is for you to source artists and other non-lawyer aspects that we could intersperse the legal work with as well, so it comes across as a really interesting edition of her magazine.

So, we're really grateful to Elaine and thanks for joining us today, Elaine. So that's one of the things that I'd been looking for some help with is being part of that takeover team. So do make a note that, and you become part of that team, just simply email me; that's brontie@lawyersfornature.com just put in the subject line "The Conscious Lawyer Takeover" and state in the body of the email what it is you'd like to do, whether that's part of the editorial team with Elaine and I and just drawing together everyone's work or whether that's actually writing or whether it's sourcing other items for the magazine.

So, that's just one of the bigger projects we're doing this year as well.

Final sign-off by Krishan on the subject of the Volunteer support available by the Lawyers for Nature team.

And of course to reiterate if you need any support with any of that in terms of production or editing or even ideas around what you can about or the sorts of assets that we can produce, then please feel free to reach out directly to me on the Discord or contact me via email, which is krish@lawyersfornature.com

Essentially all of our direct contact emails are our first name, so Brontie, Alice, Paul or Krish @lawyersfornature.com and we will endeavour to respond to you quickly but also direct messages on Discord, that's as fast a way to get in contact.