We recently caught up with the Climate Change Group at Clyde & Co, a trainee-led initiative at the firm. We discussed with Zaneta and Robin the group's pro bono rewilding work for Knepp Castle Estate and what they learnt by being involved.
Robin Bandar & Zaneta Sedilekova
Tell us a bit about yourself:
Robin: In short, I studied Politics with International Relations at the University of York and I am now a final seat trainee at Clyde & Co. Over the last few years I’ve been lucky to have been involved in some incredible charitable and pro-bono opportunities even before my training contract began, such as volunteering at the incredible Free Representation Unit in London. My fortune continued at Clyde & Co where the dedicated support to pursue my climate-related interests has allowed me to pick up skills and work on matters that would not otherwise have been possible.
Zaneta: I am a final seat trainee at Clyde & Co and a founder of the Climate Change Group (CCG), the firm's trainee-led initiative that allows trainees to gain first-hand experience in business development while focusing on Pro Bono climate change-related projects. Before joining Clyde & Co, I did an LLM at the University of Cambridge, where through my studies of International Environmental Law, I was able to develop a good understanding of main legal issues surrounding climate change.
What does the Climate Change Group do?
Robin: The CCG is a trainee-led initiative which has dedicated support from the firm to focus on pro bono climate change-related projects. The CCG has grown to 33 members across our offices who all engage on a mixture of conservation work, energy start-ups, broker initiatives and more, alongside working with the wider firm to raise awareness of climate issues and the impacts on our clients. You can read more about this from Zaneta who founded the CCG and other members of the team here, here and here.
What is rewilding?
Zaneta: Instead of managing the land for the benefit of a pre-determined target species, which is a common approach in traditional conservation projects, rewilding lets nature take the driving seat and establish a functioning ecosystem for the benefit of all wildlife. Using grazing animals as the drivers of habitat creation together with the restoration of dynamic rivers and streams, rewilding projects see extraordinary increases in wildlife and, often times, the return of regionally extinct species. One of the most famous rewilding projects underway in England is Knepp Castle Estate (Knepp) in West Sussex, which Clyde & Co has been working with since September 2020. Since its beginnings in 2001, Knepp's rewilding efforts have resulted in the return of extremely rare species, such as turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons, and most recently, storks.
What does Knepp do and why it is important?
Robin: The Knepp Estate itself is a large 3,500 acre plot which in 2001 was dedicated to a pioneering rewilding project having previously been intensively farmed. Over the last 20 years, there have been wide-ranging projects on the land to re-wild and revitalise the dwindling numbers of countless rare species. Sir David Attenborough is one of the key proponents of such initiatives and has noted they are key to restoring the biodiversity of the planet. The Knepp project is widely seen as a leading success story and has received government funding since 2010, much is owed to its unique process-led and non-goal-orientated approach where nature is in the driving seat.
What was your role in advising Knepp?
Zaneta: As a case handler alongside with Robin, I was responsible for putting together a team of 30 lawyers, who researched the questions Knepp had sent us and drafted our memorandum of advice. In this role, I had to assist Clyde & Co's Pro Bono manager, Caroline Loving, in reaching out to the firm's partners, associates and trainees, explaining the project to them and motivating them to get involved. Once the key team members were identified, I coordinated the division of research tasks among the trainees, set deadlines and communicated with the client in relation to any follow-up questions our fee earners had. To be able to learn more about rewilding, I also got involved in researching and drafting our advice in relation to one of the questions Knepp sent us in relation to rewilding storks.
Robin: As a joint case handler, I also managed the instructions we received and worked with Zaneta in coordinating the allocation of questions to teams. I was also involved in drafting a response to a tax question by liaising with our tax lawyers. Once we had received the responses from the 30 lawyers involved, which included various partners and senior associates across departments, I worked on finalising the memorandum into a master document. I also regularly liaised with our client-matter partner, Nigel Brook, to finalise and deliver to the client the advice. Overall, the opportunity to build on my network and develop my personal skills thanks to the large amount of responsibility afforded to us has been incredible for my personal profile in the run up to qualification.
What have you learned from coordinating Clyde & Co's advice to Knepp?
Zaneta: Given the involvement of 30 Clyde & Co lawyers from at least 6 departments, I have learnt the importance of having a clear and simple system for tracking the progress of each piece of research and communication with individual fee-earners to make sure Robin and I followed up when necessary. Another important lesson learned was delegation – instead of managing everything centrally, I entrusted some coordination tasks to my fellow trainees and provided guidance on how to accomplish them. This approach was beneficial for all parties involved – I myself was able to manage my workload much better while my colleagues were able to gain exposure to various partners and associates across the firm and develop important management and leadership skills at the same time.
Robin: The truth is that our jobs are made a lot easier by being part of a leading firm with thousands of talented individuals who are eager to get involved in new and exciting projects. Indeed, speaking to these lawyers, most of whom I had not previously met, across various teams has itself been a great opportunity to build my network as has building closer relationships with fellow trainees who you often don’t have the chance to work directly with. Further, being privy to the mechanics of managing an instruction and the varying approach of partners has also been educational and has allowed me to undertake a leadership position in order to achieve the goal we set – the whole process has not been short on lessons.
What would you recommend to students who would like to learn more about rewilding?
Robin: As a simple tip, keep up to date with the news as climate issues in general are (if you’ll excuse the pun) a hot-topic and are not short on discussion. As I have gone through my training contract there has been a clear rise in clients asking about our firms’ climate credentials and seeking advice on climate-conscious best practice, such as the inclusion of climate-related clauses in leases and commercial agreements and reviews of their supply chains. You can also regularly check our firms’ Resilience page for key updates. For rewilding specifically, there are several great online resources by the True Nature Foundation and on Rewilding Europe as well as fantastic documentary on Netflix by Sir David (A Life on Our Planet) which touches on rewilding. You could also read Isabella Tree’s highly praised book “Wilding” which tells the story of Knepp coming to be as we know it.
Knepp is home to red, roe and fallow deer – you can find more photos from the rewilding project here. Photo credit – Knepp Castle Estate.
We have also heard from trainees involved in advising Knepp Castle Estate:
Lucy Vickers: “As part of Clyde & Co’s Climate Change Group, incoming trainees were given a fantastic opportunity to assist the Knepp Castle Estate with several rewilding queries. This team not only provided trainees with a chance to work alongside Partners and Associates across the firm, but also provided a brilliant platform to expand and cultivate our knowledge on a very topical subject. From understanding the importance of reinstating natural processes, to learning how rewilding can help reinvigorate local communities, working alongside Knepp has allowed me to develop my passion for combatting climate change whilst supporting a very important cause.”
Catriona Campbell: “It has been amazing to learn more about rewilding through our pro bono work. This is something I was really interested in and passionate about before I started my training contract, but I never thought I’d be able to develop my knowledge in this area while working for a City firm! It has also been a fantastic development experience, as we have been able to work with partners and associates across the firm, and have had the opportunity to draft advice ourselves under appropriate supervision.”
George Nix: "Working in our pro bono Knepp team has given me the chance to explore the intersection of theory and practice when it comes to rewilding and the law. It has been a great opportunity to not only learn more about current rewilding projects and initiatives but to look at how the law can be used as a practical tool to provide certainty for those looking to reinvest in our valuable green spaces. You would be amazed at just how much law is involved in rewilding whether it be contract, tort or regulatory law and certainly the highlight for me was working with colleagues from across the firm's vast breadth of expertise to address these wide-ranging issues. I really think that pro bono work like this is a great way of learning and making a positive difference to causes I am passionate about."
Beatrice Russo: "Working in the Knepp team is and continues to be one of the most stimulating experiences of my training contract. Advising on the rewilding of a vast estate gave me the opportunity to research and become acquainted with areas of the law, such as conservation and wildlife law, which I would hardly encounter whilst working at a law firm in the City of London. Further, the Knepp Project consists in advising the client in significantly diverse legal fields. This allowed me to interact and work with many departments within Clyde & Co. Overall, it is an inspiring project and I look forward to continuing to be part of the team."
Nick Rayner: "I helped to draft a memorandum of advice to the client with regards to a particular contact question. I was also part of a team which produced a template agreement for the client. I developed my knowledge of the important work carried out by rewilding charities and organisations, and the ways in which law firms can help them to achieve their aims and mitigate key practical and legal risks. It was very rewarding to be able to make a meaningful contribution to the client's rewilding activities, and I am proud to work for a law firm with leading expertise in this area."
Karla Viinikainen: "As a big nature lover and outdoors enthusiast, I felt compelled to take part in the rewilding pro bono work our firm is involved in. I have loved learning about the practical ways in which we can help to restore our ecosystems and preserve biodiversity. It has been extremely rewarding to be able to use my professional legal knowledge and skills to help organisations and individuals in their rewilding efforts.”
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