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Forthcoming article by UH Law Center's Professor Flatt to analyze how attorney ethics rules can address global warming crisis

University of Houston Law Center Professor Victor B. Flatt

University of Houston Law Center Professor Victor B. Flatt

Jan. 21, 2020 - Professor Victor Flatt’s “Disclosing the Danger” article has been making waves in the real world before its official publication. 

“Disclosing the Danger” explores the possibility that climate activists might utilize relevant attorney ethics rules to alter attorney representation for greenhouse gas emitters.  It is scheduled to be published in the 2020 Utah Law Review.

“Attorneys may come to be between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the ethics of representing greenhouse gas emitters," Flatt said. "As climate change continues to worsen, the probability that one or more ethics complaints will be filed against attorneys in one or more states grow more likely.

“This article is to put this possibility on the radar for attorneys who may not have thought about it.”

Part of the bigger discussion on the personal ethics of climate altering activities, Flatt’s article notes that the attorney ethical rule requiring or permitting the disclosure of  client confidentialities if necessary to avert death or substantial bodily harm could be applicable to client emission of greenhouse gases. 

Flatt, the Dwight Olds Chair in Law and the Faculty Director of the Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center, presented his findings at the Vermont Law School’s Hot Topics summer program in July of 2019. Based on that presentation, E&E News reporter Jennifer Hijazi wrote a story about the article, noting the concerns about it arising in legal circles. 

The Environmental Law Institute then commissioned Flatt to write a shorter version for its Environmental Forum presented national non-legal audience.  This article, also called “Disclosing the Danger,” was published in early January. The article was also featured in the Jan. 14 episode of the podcast, “Law to Fact.”

Flatt’s article was used for discussion of environmental law and ethics at both Harvard Law School and the University of Virginia Law School during the Fall 2019 semester, and was featured at the New York State Bar’s fall meeting. He has made public presentations to the Texas State Bar, and the Houston Bar Association, and will present to a national audience at the American Bar Association’s Section on Environmental and Energy Law’s annual meeting and on a national webinar sponsored by the Environmental Law Institute in the Spring 2020 semester.

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