ClientEarth wins at FT ‘Innovative Lawyer’ awards

ClientEarth’s CEO James Thornton has won a prestigious European ‘special achievement’ award from the Financial Times, at a high profile ceremony for innovative lawyers.

ClientEarth also received a major accolade for innovation – securing the ‘New Model Legal Business’ title for 2016.

Watch James’s keynote speech at the FT 2016 Innovative Lawyers Awards.

The awards come amid a wave of legal challenges launched in recent weeks by ClientEarth to force governments and cities across Europe to tackle illegal levels of pollution.

The FT Innovative Lawyers awards were announced at a ceremony attended by 500 guests at the Natural History Museum in London, where Thornton was selected as the 2016 Special Achievement Award Winner in Europe.


In his acceptance speech, James said: “It never occurred to me that an aggressive American litigator, who morphed into an English solicitor, could be honoured in this way. It is humbling and exciting.”

Every year, the FT chooses an individual who has made an “extraordinary contribution” to law and the profession as part of its ‘Innovative Lawyers’ programme – an independent ranking and awards scheme.

ClientEarth is using pioneering legal strategies to force the financial world and fossil fuel companies to address climate change risks – and opportunities – in their business and investment models. It’s helped to bring shareholder resolutions calling for more transparency over climate risk.

After the ceremony, Thornton said: “It’s a terrific honour to be a US litigator, based in London, and now winning a special achievement award for innovation for our work in Europe.

“ClientEarth is an innovative organisation and we will continue to break new ground using the law in order to help protect the environment, people and the planet.”

‘Genuine legal innovation’

Michael Skapinker, FT Associate Editor, said the “establishment of ClientEarth and its growth over the past nine years fulfils all our criteria of what constitutes genuine legal innovation.”

James founded ClientEarth – Europe’s first public interest environmental law organisation – in 2007. Now operating globally, with offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw and New York, the not-for-profit group uses law, advocacy and science to address the greatest challenges of our time – including biodiversity loss, climate change, and toxic chemicals.

Thornton, who is a Zen Buddhist priest, keen ornithologist, author, poet and violinist was named one of the 1000 most influential Londoners earlier this year.


The organisation’s legal work on pollution and in highlighting the risks climate change poses to the financial world received recognition at the national Sustainable City Awards in London this year.

Thornton was also named “Leader of the Year” and ClientEarth won “NGO of the Year” at the 2016 Business Green Awards.

ClientEarth won its case against the UK government on air quality at the Supreme Court last year and is returning to court on October 18th because of Defra’s inadequate plans to tackle illegal pollution levels.

Legal challenges were recently launched by ClientEarth in Brno and Prague in the Czech Republic; in Brussels in Belgium and there are 10 ongoing cases in Germany, where a court in Dusseldorf recently ordered diesel vehicles to be banned from the worst polluted streets in the city.

Judges in Krakow also recently sided with ClientEarth in an important air pollution case in Kraków, Poland.


Read a full transcript: ClientEarth CEO James Thornton acceptance speech: FT Award for European Innovative Lawyer of 2016

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