Disclosing the Danger: Climate Change Meets Attorney Ethics


Victor B. Flatt


This article suggests a novel concept in climate change law and attorney ethics law by proposing that many states’ attorney ethics laws could be interpreted to require, or at least permit, attorneys to disclose client activity relating to greenhouse gas emissions. Every state has some form of ABA Model Rule 1.6(b), either requiring or allowing attorneys to disclose client activities that result in death or substantial bodily harm. This article asserts that prior precedent surrounding this disclosure rule indicates that it could be applicable to greenhouse gas emissions. Attorney disclosures in turn, could impact a wide swath of greenhouse gas emission activity, making it more transparent, and in certain cases requiring attorneys to counsel cessation of such activities or withdraw from representation. Because there is growing climate activism seeking to use all legal tools to slow or stop greenhouse gas emissions, this attorney ethics issue could be a strategic tool to try and control greenhouse gas emissions activities. Thus attorneys from the private sector to government should be aware of the potential ethical issues they face in handling greenhouse gas related legal work.


climate change, attorney ethics, greenhouse gas emissions, climate, environment, death

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2020 Utah Law Review 569 (2020)


COinS Victor B. Flatt Faculty Bio