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Ethics & Environmental Law – Challenging Professional Boundaries

A number of the Kellehers Australia team presented a question paper titled Ethics & Environmental Law – Challenging Professional Boundaries at the fourth annual Australian & New Zealand Legal Ethics Colloquium on Thursday 28th November, hosted by Flinders University, Adelaide.

The paper explores the relationship between the legal profession and the environment, a problem that our firm continually faces in our line of work. The paper posed the question:

“Does legal profession needs to reconsider its relationship to the environment?”

We consider the dual pressures on the lawyer from, on the one hand, ethics – ethical principles, codes and obligations – and, on the other, the changing values held by society.

We argue that the profession, by virtue of its oaths, stands in a unique relationship with society and must reflect change in social values as a part of its ongoing responsibility towards those whom it seeks to represent, in addition to duties to court, client, profession. In this process we examine how a deeper integration of principles of environmental ethics may help to address contemporary pressures facing the legal profession ‘from the outside’, that is from a social perspective. As knowledge of human impact on the environment continues to develop, we ask whether professional ethics needs reconsideration in order to accommodate new principles.

We provide a brief excerpt of the question paper below along with a link to download the whole paper.




This paper overviews key philosophical approaches to ethics and stresses the link between ethics and changing societal values. Drawing on the emerging field of environmental ethics, it asks whether changed societal values concerning the environment require reconsideration of legal professional ethics given the maturing of the field of environmental law1.

The authors’ standpoint is that ethics has a strong relationship to value. What we value most, or what most impresses its value on us, bears a strong relationship to what we perceive is good or what is worth pursuing2.

Although various fields of ethics exist, including environmental and professional ethics, what, from the author’s standpoint, is most important about these disciplines is that they open for us the possibility of questioning value. In questioning or demanding what ought to be, a space for discourse emerges where our understanding of what is of value can be tested, played with examined and developed.

We note that this area is complex and we are providing a simple synthesis of a complex theoretical field.



Copyright © Kellehers Australia 2013

This blog post is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest. It does not constitute legal advice. You should always seek legal and other professional advice which takes account of your individual circumstances. 


  1. Bates, Gerry, Environmental Law in Australia, Lexis Nexis Butterworths, 8th edition, at 19
  2. This argument is a strong current in philosophy and has a position in western philosophy from the time of the Greeks. See Robinson, D., Garrett, C., 2003., Introducing Ethics, Maryland: Totem Books U.S.A.