Disclosing the Danger: State Attorney Ethics Rules Meet Climate Change

57 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2019 Last revised: 9 Mar 2021

See all articles by Victor Byers Flatt

Victor Byers Flatt

University of Houston Law Center; University of Houston Global Energy Management Institute

Date Written: February 22, 2019


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.

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

JEL Classification: I18, K19, K32, Q35, Q48, Q54, Q58

Suggested Citation

Flatt, Victor Byers, Disclosing the Danger: State Attorney Ethics Rules Meet Climate Change (February 22, 2019). Utah Law Review, U of Houston Law Center No. 2019-A-8, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3340130 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3340130

Victor Byers Flatt (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

4604 Calhoun Road
4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204-6060
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713-922-0392 (Phone)

University of Houston Global Energy Management Institute ( email )

Houston, TX 77204-6021
United States

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