A&O Partner Suzanne Spears leaves to set up specialist business and human rights firm

The public international law and disputes lawyer’s move reflects the tectonic shift taking place across the global legal sector caused by the rise of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. In Europe and around the world, new human rights related transparency and due diligence regulatory requirements are coming into effect, international disputes and investigations involving human rights issues are multiplying rapidly, and ‘greenwashing’ about human rights issues is becoming a serious concern.

Commenting on these developments, Spears said that: “The time is right to establish a firm focused on business and human rights to advise corporate general counsel, and the investment and finance community. Corporates need legal advice and representation in disputes informed by an understanding of geopolitical and local socio-economic factors, and the views of affected stakeholders. Multidisciplinary thinking is required to help clients establish and maintain not only their legal but also their social licences to operate and resolve disputes regarding issues that are not always effectively regulated in the global economy”.

The new firm, which is launching in the autumn, will focus on human rights due diligence, impact assessments and investigations, and support the resolution of disputes through international arbitration, transnational litigation and non-judicial processes. It will also counsel clients on ways to prevent and eliminate human rights-related harms, and to seize opportunities to advance human rights by adhering to internationally recognised standards.

Spears’ firm aims to fill a gap in the market by providing legally privileged advice from a conflict free platform with flexible fee models, and the agility to draw upon a network of local lawyers and experts for country-specific advice. Conflicts and high fees often limit the ability to offer such advice from the platform of a large law firm, while clients are exposed to significant legal risks if they engage non-lawyer consultants to uncover and address sensitive human rights issues. Spears, who has long held the goal of establishing her own Business and Human Rights practice, said that: “The surge of corporate interest in Environmental, Social and Governance factors, and a recent focus on the Social aspect in particular, makes it an exciting time to build a new style of specialist multidisciplinary firm.” Spears added: “I plan to make further announcements in the autumn, including announcing my colleagues in the new venture.”

A spokesperson for Allen & Overy commented: “Suzanne Spears has left Allen & Overy. We’d like to thank her for her contribution and wish her well for the future.”

News of Suzanne’s move was published in Legal Week, Global Arbitration Review, Bloomberg Law, Law360, The Legal Diary, CDR News, and The Global Legal Post.