I write this column still energized from the outstanding 31st Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER) Fall Conference in Washington, D.C. Attendance was strong, topping even some of our best pre-pandemic numbers. The program and speakers were top notch and received rave reviews, thanks to the work of Bonnie Heiple and her incredible Planning Committee. I was able to reconnect with old friends and former and current Section leaders, many of whom I had not had the opportunity to see in person for several years.
Perhaps more importantly, though, I met scores of new colleagues and friends for the first time. Nearly one-third of the attendees at this year’s Fall Conference were first-time attendees. One of our most prominent speakers, a longtime leader in environmental law and policy, commented: “I usually know everyone at SEER conferences. There are so many new people I don’t know!” For me, that statement is the biggest success of this year’s Fall Conference; we were able to engage and begin to forge relationships with a wide range of new and diverse environment, energy, and resources lawyers, professionals, and law students who will be future members and leaders of our Section.
The preponderance of new faces at this year’s conference speaks to the increased interest in environmental, energy, and resources law and policy, especially among law students and young lawyers. Federal and state government efforts to address climate change and mitigate its impacts, the increased prominence of environmental, social, and governance issues for corporations, and the ongoing clean energy transition are just a few of the many legal and policy issues driving new interest in these fields of practice and creating more work for environment, energy, and resources lawyers and professionals. Given all the legal and policy activity in these areas, SEER conferences should be “the place to be” for lawyers and professionals in the field, and this year’s Fall Conference certainly delivered.
Heightened interest and increased opportunities in our fields of practice do not alone explain our success in attracting new faces to this year’s conference, however. The number of new faces we brought in are also a testament to the hard work of our Section’s past and present leaders––from the Executive Committee and Council to committee chairs and vice chairs and individuals––to take sustained action to engage law students and young lawyers in new ways; improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in everything we do; and expand our reach to get the word out about the value of SEER and its work to new audiences.
For example, we created the Environmental Law Society Network (the Network) to improve our connection to law students who have identified environmental, energy, and resources law as areas of practice they intend to pursue. Over 90 law schools in more than 30 states have joined the Network, which provides resources for students to start or improve environmental law societies at their schools and fosters relationships between law students and SEER and its members. If your law school or a law school near you hasn’t joined the Network, contact Section staff for help signing them up!
In addition, to connect with law students as they transition to new lawyers entering practice, we created the SEER Bridge program, which connects students to SEER member mentors. This professional connection to a SEER member in practice provides a lasting benefit for law students as they move into practice and helps us retain those students and their contributions when they become lawyers.
Our Section has also continued to prioritize efforts––both formal and informal––to ensure that SEER is a place where everyone belongs. Our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Action Plan sets forth the Section’s goals for ensuring diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in its membership, programs, and publications, and holding our leadership responsible for taking action to achieve those goals. The Membership Diversity Enhancement Program (MDEP) provides opportunities for new members from diverse backgrounds to join the Section, attend our events, gain valuable new leadership skills, and develop relationships with leadership and each other. Further, acting on recommendations from our 2022–2023 Leadership Development Program (LDP) cohort, the Committee on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging held a “DEIB In Action” luncheon (generously hosted by Clark Hill) in advance of the Fall Conference to introduce minority law students in the Washington, D.C., area to attorneys of different backgrounds and provide them a unique opportunity to receive advice and networking tips they could employ at the conference.
Taken together, these efforts are expanding our reach and making SEER and its events a welcoming and open place where everyone can develop new professional and personal relationships to advance their career. I’m proud of the work our Section has done to forge connections with law students and young lawyers and improve DEIB in our profession, and all of us are reaping the benefits of increased attendance, engagement, and energy and excitement that these efforts have produced. We have a long way to go, but the new faces at this year’s Fall Conference showed we’re off to a great start.