March 01, 2013

Views from the Chair: The highest calling: Cultivating our future leaders

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn

The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.
—Harvey S. Firestone

The lifeblood of any professional organization is the development and support of its new members. Offering valuable resources and opportunities often leads to the organization becoming a key device in a new member’s professional career development tool box and to the member becoming a future leader in the organization. In my years in Section leadership, I have seen significant growth in and commitment to initiatives supporting law students, young lawyers, diversity, and new members. I’d like to take a few moments to highlight these programs and their dedicated lawyer leaders.

One of the Section’s crown jewels this year is the establishment and conferring of the ABA Distinguished Environmental Advocates Award on twelve Rising Stars in the profession at a luncheon on March 22 during the Section’s 42nd Spring Conference in Salt Lake City. Eligible candidates met the ABA’s definition of “Young Lawyer”—those lawyers under the age of 36 or in practice fewer than five years—whose accomplishments are above and beyond those of their peers, and are deserving of recognition. They were required to hold a Juris Doctorate, and be leaders whose contributions to NGOs, communities, neighborhoods, the government, academia, and the practice of law are significant and belie their years and experience. The award recipients are:

  • Brian Accardo, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Tallahassee (University of Miami School of Law)
  • Rita Bolt Barker, Wyche, P.A., Greenville, South Carolina (Harvard Law School)
  • Marisa Blackshire, Alston & Bird LLP, Los Angeles (Southwestern University Law)
  • Janice Dean, New York State Attorney General, Environmental Protection Bureau, New York City (Pace University School of Law)
  • Hella Jordan Diamond, Environmental Law Institute, Washington, D.C. (University of California Berkeley School of Law)
  • Reda Hicks, Diamond McCarthy LLP, Houston (University of California Berkeley School of Law)
  • David Johnson, Arizona Department of Water Resources, Phoenix (Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, LLM Pace University School of Law)
  • Melissa Meirink, Greenberg Traurig, LLP, Denver (Seattle University School of Law)
  • Tina Meyers, Blue Water, Baltimore (SUNY Buffalo Law School)
  • Jessica O’Neill, Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, Philadelphia (Georgetown University Law Center)
  • Jessica Scott, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of General Counsel, Washington, D.C. (Vermont Law School)
  • Jennifer Sorenson, Natural Resources Defense Council, San Francisco (Yale Law School)

The Section’s Rising Stars Committee, which reviewed nominations and selected the award recipients, was chaired by Karen Mignone of Verrill Dana LLP and included Professor John Bonine, University of Oregon School of Law, Eugene, Oregon; Robert J. Martineau, Jr., Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation, Nashville; Vickie Patton, Environmental Defense Fund, Boulder, Colorado; William W. Kinsey, Bonneville Power Administration, Portland, Oregon; Catherine M. Wieman, California Attorney General’s Office, Los Angeles; Elizabeth Bennett, Sheldon Lobel, P.C., New York City; Diana Csank, personal capacity, White House Council on Environmental Quality, Washington, D.C; Steven Schell, Chevron Corporation, San Francisco; and Karen M. Wardzinski, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

Another signature Section program is our Leadership Development Program (LDP), designed to support members interested in expanding a current leadership role or growing their Section knowledge so that they can assume a future leadership role. These individuals reflect diversity and help the Section support the ABA’s Goal III. At the conclusion of each year’s LDP, the class members have a stronger sense of Section operations and of leadership opportunities, and are better able to focus future Section involvement. The LDP has accepted both new and long-time Section members into the classes, making it a terrific laboratory for new leadership ideas. LDP benefits include registration fee waivers, a Section mentor, and travel and lodging assistance for one conference for those in government, academic, or public interest practice; young lawyers; or solo/small firm practitioners. The LDP is headed this year by Section Vice Chair Steve Miano of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, Philadelphia. Watch for a call for applications this summer if you are interested in the 2012–2013 LDP.

The Section’s Special Committee on Young Lawyers, chaired by Emily N. Masalski, Deutsch Levy & Engel Chartered, Chicago, offers a place to meet fellow Section members, opportunities to become more involved in the Section, and ways to learn about the practice. Closely related is the Section’s Special Committee on Law Students, chaired by Susan Floyd King, Brunini, Grantham, Grower & Hewes PLLC, Jackson, Mississippi. The Section’s law student members have access to career podcasts, complimentary participation in teleconferences via their Environmental Law Societies, and scholarship opportunities to Section conferences.

Together, the Young Lawyer and Law Student special committees host dynamic “Speed Networking” events at the Section’s Spring and Fall conferences. Imagine a room packed with over 100 seasoned lawyers, young lawyers, and law students talking in three-minute segments for over an hour about career paths and the ABA, and you have one of the Section’s most popular events. In addition, at Section conferences our Guide Program matches experienced lawyers with a young lawyer or law student to provide advice and a friendly face. Law student achievement is recognized through the Section’s annual award for the “The Law Student Environment, Energy, and Resources Program of the Year.” The special committees are also working on several “meet the ABA” events at law schools and in major cities throughout the year.

The Section also supports activities which bring together practitioners, academics, and students to promote knowledge and learning. For example, on April 18, 2013, we are holding a Symposium with the University of Montana School of Law’s Public Land & Resources Law Review entitled Balancing Act & Paradigm Shift: The Role of Public Lands in America’s Energy Future. Chaired by Jeffrey Dennis, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C., the Symposium is also the School’s 35th Public Land Law Symposium and the ABA’s 41st National Spring Conference on the Environment. All members should consider attending this event. The Section also financially contributes to, and sends Section leaders to meaningfully participate in, other law student moots and law school forums, such as the Stetson Law International Environmental Moot Court Competition, a world-wide moot court, particularly its North America Regional Round to be held in Gulfport, Florida, in March 2013; the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition at Pace Law School in New York, also held in February; and the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law annual Wallace Stegner Center Conference, set for April 2013. Hopefully, the Section’s presence at these events draws future Section members and demonstrates our commitment to students pursuing our fields of practice.

The Section’s Membership Diversity Enhancement Program (MDEP) is designed for lawyers historically under-represented in our Section membership. Chaired by Professor James Hickey of Hofstra University School of Law, Hempstead, New York, the MDEP is open to minority lawyers, female lawyers, lawyers with disabilities, and lawyers with differing sexual orientation and gender identification that are young lawyers (by the ABA definition), or in government, public interest, academic, or solo practice. Through the MDEP, we can enhance Section activities, programs, and publications to better reflect the diverse perspectives and interests of lawyers who practice in the environment, energy, and resources areas. The Section pays 50 percent of an MDEP participant’s ABA dues and waives his or her Section dues.

Hopefully this snapshot demonstrates the Section’s commitment to the next generation of leaders. If you have ideas regarding ways we can improve our programs, or any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to me at or to the Section’s Membership and Diversity Officer, Pam Barker, Appleton Papers Inc., Appleton, Wisconsin. Given the focus on the future members of our profession in this column, I end with the Latin word for “ever upward” frequently used by a favorite colleague, Professor Nicholas A. Robinson of Pace Law School, at the end of his letters—excelsior!

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn is the executive director and general counsel of the Association of Clean Water Administrators.