July 01, 2014

Views from the Chair: Keep the focus on the practice

William L. Penny

The American Bar Association is home to 28 sections, divisions, and forums representing some 190,000 members. Each section, division, and forum (SDF) provides unique and valuable benefits to it members, the profession, and society as a whole. The SDFs also provide tangible benefits for each member’s own practice or most likely he or she would not be a member. The importance of benefiting each member’s practice has been reflected in the theme I chose for my year as Section chair: Focus on the practice.

The Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (Section) has some 10,000 members, most of whom are lawyers. With that membership in mind, I want to summarize some of the valuable aspects about ABA membership and membership in the Section. In my first Views from the Chair article in the September/October 2013 issue, I laid out my vision for the Section this year. I really wanted the Section to focus on the practice. That is, I wanted to make sure the Section’s activities—consistent with our mission—would provide a significant value to our members’ practices both now and in preparing for the future. I believe that continued membership as well as new membership in the Section is in large part dependent on that. And focusing on the practice is not limited to providing substantive information. For example, our major stand-alone continuing education programs set aside times for young lawyer and law student events, in addition to programming held throughout the year for those groups.

My Views article in the November/December 2014 issue of Trends highlighted the Section’s substantive committees. The Section’s 34 substantive committees provide key subject matter expertise in just about every environmental, energy, or resources law area. We have encouraged those committees to involve their members in discussions about practical legal issues, to hold conference calls on hot topics or legal matters of interest, and to produce newsletters that are timely and well written for practical use. Those committees, by and large, meet those expectations.

In my January/February 2014 Views article I emphasized the Section’s commitment to outreach and global initiatives. As lawyers we know we have a great responsibility to encourage and inform areas in the United States and globally concerning the rule of law as it pertains to environment, energy, and resources. Our Section’s active participation in the World Justice Project is a good example of that outreach. In addition, former Section chair Lee DeHihns was appointed chair of the ABA President’s Sustainable Development Task Force, which has been extremely active this year in identifying sustainability issues that may be of interest to the profession. Our outreach with Canadian and United Kingdom bar associations continues to be strong and much appreciated.

My last two Views articles discussed the Section’s educational programming and some of the key considerations and work required to produce high-quality programs and high-quality publications. Once again I stressed that our educational programs and our publications should focus on our practice and be of value to what we do as lawyers. I believe that their content has been particularly effective in focusing on our practice.

My theme for the year, “focus on the practice,” culminated in the Section’s first-ever live webcast on the State of the Practice in Nashville on May 2, 2014. Roger Martella did a fabulous job of bringing together some of the top lawyers in the country to provide their perspectives of the practice of environmental, energy, and resources law. These experts made us realize environment, energy, and resources are becoming more integrated and make the Section’s mission more and more relevant. A session at the Section’s recent 32nd Water Law Conference on the impact of climate change and energy production on water resources also demonstrated that environment, energy, and resources law continues to become more interrelated. The panelists explained how the demands on energy production as a result of new regulatory greenhouse gas requirements as well as renewable energy will create more stress and demand on water resources.

We have all wondered whether interest in climate change and sustainability would create new roles for lawyers. The speakers in Nashville were clear that companies are looking primarily for lawyers with deep subject-matter expertise in, for example, air and water rather than, say, a “climate change” or “sustainability” lawyer. Companies utilize lawyers with subject-matter expertise to address climate change and sustainability issues within the business structure. An additional takeaway was that environmental, energy, and resources lawyers need to be sensitive to emerging technologies and stay abreast of new developments. In essence, the lawyers of the future will be adapting to new challenges and agendas, but the real demand will continue to be for lawyers with subject-matter expertise in areas such as air, waste, water, and chemical regulation, who not only keep up with the changing legal landscape but who are also proficient in expressing themselves in writing.

As the premier forum for environmental, energy, and resources lawyers, I am pleased that we were able to focus on the practice this year, and I hope that focus has been of value to you. It would not be possible without the hard work of our leadership, and it has been an honor to have served with you. Finally, let me add my heartfelt thanks to our Section staff led by Dana Jonusaitis. Our staff is truly one of the Section’s treasures. 

William L. Penny

William L. Penny is a member of the Environmental, Natural Resources and Energy Service Group of Stites & Harbison PLLC in Nashville and is chair of the ABA’s Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources.