For the attorneys at Uria Menendez Abogados, Spain’s 2019 “Law Firm of the Year” winner for Environmental Law, a successful practice is one that can keep up with the needs of its diverse client base—and the rapidly evolving nature of environmental policy across Europe and worldwide.
“Environmental law has changed a lot,” says Carlos de Miguel, a partner in Uria Menendez’s Madrid office. Carlos joined the firm in 1988, going on to practice in environmental, energy, and mining law, as well as prepare reports on environmental issues and draft legislation. “We’re on the edge of the law; after more than 25 years of continuous and constant change, we are always working to better adapt to the needs of the clients.”
Along with their award and some significant litigation, 2018 was a year of marked professional success for the firm. Uría Menéndez is not only committed to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations´s 2030 Agenda but also, in April, the firm joined the United Nations’ Global Compact, an international initiative uniting businesses in sustainable practice and a commitment to uphold the implementation of its 10 universally accepted principles, which encompass human rights, labor, environmental protection, and anti-corruption. Those of most concern to Carlos and his colleagues of the Environmental Law Department are principles seven, eight, and nine: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges; undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
“We want to be transparent,” Carlos says, of joining the compact. “It shows our commitment to society, and as a member of society, and we want to promote these basic principles.”
Certainly, Uria Menendez has taken on this initiative because of its firm belief in its values. But soon enough, everyone else will have to follow its lead in embracing sustainability. In November of 2018, Spain announced its ambitious plan to switch entirely to renewable energy by 2050, as well as to completely decarbonize their economy.
"This comes at an important moment ahead of COP24 where countries are invited to showcase how they meet the goals of the Agreement,” says Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief. Conscious of the European Union’s own goals for reducing emissions and preventing the destructive effects of climate change, Spain hopes to go even further—shutting down coal mines, banning sales of petrol and diesel, reach 70 percent renewable energy as soon as 2030.
We want to be transparent. It shows our commitment to society, and as a member of society, and we want to promote these basic principles
For Carlos and the others in the firm’s environmental practice, these new policy goals present both challenge and opportunity.
“We have clients from different sectors,” Carlos says. “For some, it may be easier to adapt. In some cases, we are helping in implementing the actions they have decided to take. In other cases, we are working more closely to ensure they are taking into account all areas of business that may be affected by these changes.”
As far as the firm’s mining law practice, Carlos believes the work won’t be strongly impacted by Spain’s decision concerning coal mining, as they work with many areas other than coal. Other projects, like the regulations which may halt the progress of the planned Midi-Catalonia pipeline, also raise questions for environmental attorneys and policymakers alike. “If and when the pipeline is approved, it will have to undergo the necessary steps including environmental assessment,” Carlos says. “Spain is rather active in this type of assessment. It is common that stakeholders, green groups, and companies participate in these discussions.”
More than anything, through a busy year of awards, litigation, national initiatives, and the increasing global pressure of their work, Carlos points to his peers at the firm as his greatest source of pride and accomplishment.
“The firm as a whole is what I’m particularly proud of. We keep trying and we consistently provide the best quality possible to our clients. It’s all a matter of the people that form the firm.” Certainly, with a dedication to a cause of inescapable importance, the people that form Uria Menendez Abogados’ environmental practice are doing great work.