Professions lawyer


Members of the legal profession, who might be lawyers, advocates, attorneys, counsellors, solicitors or barristers, advise or act for clients on legal matters or represent clients in a court of law. Lawyers can also play a role in the drafting of public and private legislation or policies.

Laws provide a framework for our society. Without a legal system, companies and individuals could act in ways that harm others, and the environment in which we live, with few, or no, consequences. Lawyers play a critical role in formulating and enforcing legislation that governs our everyday lives. There are two main types of lawyer: defence lawyers specialise in defending individuals or companies that have been accused of wrongdoing; while prosecutors are typically public lawyers who are given the task of initiating legal proceedings against a business or an individual. Both are extremely important in ensuring that the scales of justice are balanced. Lawyers work at international, national or local level and deal with international treaties and agreements as well as national and local policies.

Pollution from the transport sector, industries, hospitals, military activities and households kills millions of people each year. As reported by the BBC, in 2013, global air pollution contributed to 5.5 million premature deaths. To put this into perspective, it is reported that 1.3 million people have died in the past 12 years in the U.S.-led War on Terror. These staggering numbers indicate the scale of pollution-related deaths, even with the regulations that are currently in place.

Lawyers are therefore at the forefront of efforts to ensure that environmental legislation is drafted and enforced in order to ensure the health and well-being of society. Besides working on pollution prevention measures, environmental lawyers draft legislation aimed at wildlife conservation, sustainable land use, and the protection of natural resources. Lawyers can therefore influence virtually all aspects of our planet’s sustainability and health.

On the other hand, companies often attempt to avoid costly regulatory measures. Such companies pay defence lawyers huge amounts of money to shield them from prosecution or to get out of paying costly penalties in the event of an unfavourable court case. Many lawyers therefore face a moral dilemma and are obliged to think deeply about their responsibilities as global citizens and about using their profession for the public good.

  • When drafting legislation related to any sector of society, lawyers should ensure the integration of sustainability principles. 
  • According to the precautionary principle, if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action that may or may not be a risk. This principle should be embedded in all policies that may cause harm to the environment. A comprehensive discussion of the precautionary principle of environmental law can be found at 
  • Lawyers can take on pro bono legal work to address environmental issues that they consider important.
  • Networks such as the Environmental Law Network connect legal professionals from around the world.