June 01, 2014

The Back Page

Mark Ryan

We lawyers are by and large an opinionated lot. One seldom meets an attorney who doesn’t have well-defined views of the world, and I’m no exception. Luckily I have had the good fortune to have The Back Page as a forum to express my thoughts, and I have really enjoyed writing it. My career as an environmental attorney has been a fascinating one, and The Back Page has given me the opportunity to opine on many of the interesting issues I have dealt with in my work. Our fabulous NR&E Editor-In-Chief, Christine LeBel, gave me The Back Page several years ago to do with as I saw fit, and I thank her for trusting me with the job.


But the time for change has arrived, and this will be my final column. I pass it on to a new editor with mixed emotions. I won’t miss the deadlines, but I will miss the opportunity to write about the environment. I will also miss the cartoons, which I introduced to the magazine. The cartoons are interesting because with a single image they reflect the environmental problems we deal with, and invite readers to interpret them in different ways. Steven Mach, our wonderful artist, deserves a major tip of the hat for his great renditions of my ideas, often adding just the perfect touch to make the cartoon right.

I have always aimed to present both sides of an argument, and I frequently skewed toward the middle. As readers of my column have surely noticed, I eschew polar extremes and have argued that compromise is often a good thing. The middle is, I believe, where much real progress occurs. So I part with this final advice to my colleagues on various sides of the fences. For you government attorneys (I was one for twenty-four years), be careful with your power and never forget that it comes with great responsibility. You do incredibly important work, but you must be careful not to overuse the tools given to you. For my colleagues with the environmental groups, don’t confuse can with should. You do great things for the environment, but lawsuits that overreach often do more harm than good to the cause. And to the private defense bar, among whom I count many as my friends, I say continue to zealously represent your clients but never lose sight of the damage many of them can do to the world. Temper your advocacy when the facts call for it. To all three groups, remember that telling a client no is often the best advice you can give. With that, I bid you all adieu. Keep fighting the good fight but never lose sight of the ethics and high standards of conduct that keep our jobs as meaningful and productive as they are.

Mark Ryan

Mark Ryan is a member of the editorial board of Natural Resources & Environment.