Injustice Atop Environmental Injustices: Ethical Questions Raised by Retainers Offered in Environmental Justice Communities

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Marianne Engelman-Lado
Essay Abstract: 
Low-income communities of color disproportionately face environmental hazards, lack access to resources, and are excluded from decision-making processes. In their fight for environmental justice (EJ), community members use a variety of community-based tactics and sometimes seek redress through the legal system. While some attorneys represent clients in alignment with legal ethics standards, others may take advantage of community members’ limited access to civil legal services and low literacy rates, among other disadvantageous factors. As a result of analysis of legal documents drafted by attorneys and given to residents of EJ communities in North Carolina and Alabama, I argue that EJ communities may be subject to practices that raise significant ethical issues, including whether attorneys obtain informed consent from potential clients, set reasonable fees, and abide by their fiduciary duty to their clients. This thesis sheds light on and encourages further dialogue about potential ethical breaches by attorneys representing marginalized communities that are overburdened by environmental harms.