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Could You Already Be Practicing Environmental Law?

Ashley Harvey

Could You Already Be Practicing Environmental Law?
Prapat Aowsakorn via iStock

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Environmental law is expansive and has considerable interplay with many different disciplines and practice areas, and most lawyers will come across environmental law issues at some point in their practice. There is perhaps no other area of law that uses an attorney’s educational background, work experience, and interests more than environment law. It is often an attractive field for new lawyers because it allows them to bring all of their professional and interdisciplinary skills to the table.

Environmental Law Is Growing Substantially

Environmental attorneys are employed across the spectrum, including government agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector. The field has seen substantial growth over the years, and this trend will only continue. To meet the demand of clients, firms and small practices have increasingly established environmental law departments, which typically use a cross-disciplinary approach with other specialty practice groups within the firm.

Legislation, regulatory issues, and permitting are not the only items on the list for what an environmental lawyer’s workload can look like. An environmental lawyer works on cases that one may not typically associate with the field, such as business torts litigation, criminal prosecution, public health and safety, and real estate transactions. An area that has been positively impacted by environmental law is human rights. The concept of international environmental human rights is not a new or novel one; however, it’s still developing and becoming a more publicized topic. Environmental and human rights lawyers and organizations often work together to bolster each other up the steep ladder of international attention, political structure, and governmental enforcement.

You May Have More Environmental Law Experience Than You Realize

Many environmental attorneys have undergraduate degrees in engineering, business, and the sciences. Attorneys with background experience in these areas understand how the law affects business decisions and other professions, and this understanding of the interplay between professions is a benefit to the environmental lawyer. In particular, land use law, often described as straddling law and politics, is a practice area where interests and professions collide. Land use lawyers are not just helping their clients get the necessary approvals for a project—their work also requires business management and proficient interpersonal skills.

Environmental Law Is Not Static

If you started your career in litigation and are thinking of transitioning to another area,  consider the benefits of an environmental law focus. There are plenty of opportunities to gain trial experience in toxic torts, land use, remediation, and real estate transactions.

Having a working knowledge of environmental law and how it converges with your current practice area can make the difference in whether you secure a favorable outcome for your client. For example, environmental issues show up in many commercial real estate transactions. Working together, environmental and real estate attorneys incorporate environmental issues into the transaction. It can often be the case where the real estate attorney, who may lack a solid understanding of the environmental implications, does not consult with an environmental attorney. Potential risks down the line are great not only for the client but also for the real estate attorney who does not carry environmental malpractice insurance. For these reasons, all lawyers need to be able to identify when a matter requires a deeper analysis of environmental law implications or consulting an environmental lawyer.

The view that environmental law is polarizing is changing. Given its comprehensive nature and interplay with almost every other practice area, it’s likely you are already working on a matter that involves aspects of environmental law. It’s an area where diverse interests, experience, and education can come together to craft an interesting and comprehensive career.