Ursula Brunner gained a doctorate in Law from the University of Zurich and was a founding partner of the law firm ettlersuter Rechtsanwälte. In her professional life, she focused primarily on matters of environmental law. She took delight in shaping this legal area in various ways from the 1980s onwards with:
- Commentary on the Environmental Protection Act, as a commentator and first editor
- Legislative proposals for municipalities, cantons and the federal government
- Consultations and expert reports
- Scientific essays and critical appraisals of court decisions
- The Vereinigung für Umweltrecht (VUR, Association for Environmental Law) which she co-founded and its journal Umweltrecht in der Praxis (URP, Applied Environmental Law)
She also taught environmental law as part of educational programmes at the engineering college Ingenieurschule Rapperswil (now HSR) and the University of Zurich, among other institutions. As a mentor and contact for many legal colleagues, particularly younger environmental lawyers, she was always ready to listen. For her services as a "pioneer of environmental law", she was awarded an honorary doctorate (Dr. iur. h.c.) by the University of Zurich in 2008.
In the final years of her life, Ursula Brunner took an active interest in climate law. In the lawsuit that she helped to draft for the Senior Women for Climate Protection, she invoked the precautionary principle set out in the Constitution, among other points, to show that the federal government has a duty to implement the enshrined climate targets more strictly. The Federal Supreme Court's decision is still outstanding.
Outside her legal work, Ursula Brunner attached great importance to networking with other actors from the area of environmental law. She was involved in expert committees spanning highly varied fields: the Mensch-Gesellschaft-Umwelt (MGU) programme at the University of Basel, the Swiss Priority Programme Environment funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Federal Commission for Air Hygiene and the Advisory Board of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology at ETH Zurich. She also remained an active member of the FachFrauen Umwelt network (female professionals for the environment) up until her death.
But Ursula Brunner was far more than just a leading environmental lawyer. She promoted dialogue between disciplines and cultures, as a long-standing member of the Landis & Gyr foundation, for example. With her openness and constructive manner, she supported a range of endeavours – from hotels with disabled access to fair trade projects and the fight against AIDS in South Africa. She wanted to help shape the law and society, and campaigned for a world with more democracy and sustainability.