September 01, 2013

Views from the Chair: Focus on the practice

William L. Penny

I read an article recently in the ABA’s electronic newsletter about the regional pronunciations of the word “lawyer.” It seems that Southerners such as myself tend to pronounce the term phonetically as rhyming with “sawyer” (like Tom). That’s the way I pronounce it. Most of the rest of the country tends to pronounce it “loy-er.” However one pronounces it, we are all lawyers and share the privilege of engaging in a profession that has a long tradition of serving clients who are in need of legal services as well as providing an outreach to society as a whole. The ABA has some 400,000 lawyer and law student members. The Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources is home to nearly 10,000 of them.

The practice of law in general—and environmental law in particular—has changed over the years. For example, how do in-house counsel view the role of outside counsel and has that changed or is it changing? The type of work in private practice can change based on government agenda or initiatives. Non-governmental organizations with local, national, and international platforms are becoming more active in the legal arena. We are experiencing a time of globalization of legal services. The substantive environmental law areas are changing to meet new and expanding fields—climate change and sustainability come immediately to mind, while regulation of renewable sources of energy and financing environmental infrastructure also seem to be trending up. Is the focus of environmental, energy, and resources legal practice shifting altogether? Does the market still consider traditionally core topics—such air, waste, and water—to be the main focus for environmental lawyers? Have these areas blended into the dynamic fabric of energy and resources law?

While we contemplate these questions and consider the shifts or potential shifts in the legal field, it is important that we position ourselves to recognize and address these changes. I believe that now more than ever, our focus as a Section should be on the state of the practice—to concentrate on how to meet these challenges and changes as legal professionals. Our Section has a tradition of providing service to its members, and I believe that this service should, among other things, aim to promote the enhancement of our members practice, at whatever level and in whatever arena, whether NGO, governmental agency, academia, or private practice.

To that end, as your chair for 2013–2014, I plan to continue the Section’s tradition of serving our profession through the theme, “Focus on the Practice.”

To promote this theme, I am encouraging member activities to include content that will assist each of us in our practice. There are numerous legal topics that the Section should and will continue to cover; however, I want to make sure that the Section provides opportunities for its members to add value to their practices by focusing on current trends in environmental, energy, and resource legal practice while also preparing our members for the future.

The upcoming 21st Fall Conference in Baltimore is a good example. On Wednesday, October 9, we will have an afternoon panel on “how to get hired,” presented by in-house counsel. A number of other conference sessions are “mainstream” in our practice areas while others are “cutting-edge.”

I am encouraging committee chairs to make the most of committee conference calls to stay in touch and share information about the practice. Our publications are a real showpiece of the Section’s focus on the practice. Our books provide almost immediate desktop references to key environmental, energy, and resources issues. Our other publications will continue to provide the fine quality necessary to help you in your practice.

Before the Spring Council meeting next April in Nashville, the Section will hold a symposium on the “state of the practice,” with the help of Vanderbilt Law School. This “Quo Vadis” symposium will focus on the practice of environmental, energy, and resources law today and where it may be going in the future.

This year is shaping up to be a lot of fun and will hopefully be of value to you and your practice. I am honored to be chair of the Section for 2013–2014. See you soon. And be sure to follow me on Twitter at “tnenvlawyer.”

William L. Penny

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