In the past few months, we’ve seen a number of oil industry hit-pieces against communities, attorneys, and NGOs involved in litigation against fossil fuel companies over their responsibility for the harms of climate change. The most frequently-heard messages: these cases have no legal merit, and the only people who will benefit are the lawyers bringing the cases.
This argument assumes a very high degree of stupidity among its audience.
In every case to date, the lawyers involved are either private law firms who are working for “contingency” fees, or nonprofits (like ERI) who are working pro bono. Lawyers on contingency, of course, only get paid if they win the case. So you can either argue that the cases will fail, or that the lawyers will get paid, but not both. There is no universe in which these lawyers will get money by losing these cases. That’s the whole point of contingency fees.
Yet industry shills do not hesitate to make both arguments in the same breath. For example:
“Lawsuits targeting manufacturers do nothing to address climate change, but will do plenty to line the pockets of plaintiffs’ attorneys — and in this case, the very same attorneys behind countless other public nuisance lawsuits throughout the country,” a spokesperson for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) said in a statement. “As history has demonstrated, these lawsuits stand little chance in the courtroom.”
(Confidential to NAM: even though Exxon sits on your board, no one buys that oil companies are “manufacturers.”)
It’s one or the other. If these lawsuits “stand little chance in the courtroom,” then obviously they won’t “line the pockets of plaintiffs’ attorneys.”
Statements like these are an insult to the intelligence of their audience, and they also indicate that the oil industry has no idea what message they want to deliver. Are the lawsuits baseless? In that case, the plaintiffs’ attorneys will lose a lot of money. Oil companies should be cheering! Or do the lawsuits have merit? In that case, yes, plaintiffs’ attorneys may make a lot of money – but that’s because the oil companies are responsible, and the plaintiffs’ attorneys have put in a lot of work to prove it in court.
Maybe the National Association of Manufacturers should focus more on expanding actual manufacturing jobs in the United States and less on defending oil companies from paying their share of the climate change costs faced by communities across the country – or on attacking the lawyers helping them to do so.