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Practice Areas & Settings

Environmental Lobbying: Easy-to-Access Activism

Duke Cooney

Environmental Lobbying: Easy-to-Access Activism
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Some groups buy, restore, and preserve wildlands through land acquisitions, creating nature preserves. Others support coastal cleanup programs and water diversion efforts along rivers and streams, supporting aquatic life and access to safe drinking water. Whatever the result, these projects require support at all levels, along with a great deal of financing. Effective advocacy is critical to ensure these projects become a reality, which requires advocates, commonly known as lobbyists, to promote their goals and interests to legislators. Although the legal profession and lobbying are distinct in many ways, the ability for crossover is undeniable and not difficult to achieve if you put in the effort.

Stakeholder Lobbying

Environmental lobbyists are an essential tool in ensuring environmental protection and preservation. Environmental lobbyists support those on the front lines by ensuring they have all the benefits and opportunities possible at the legislative level. They assist environmental organizations with navigating the various grant applications from local, state, and federal funding sources.

The significant difference between environmental lobbyists and traditional lobbyists are the clients we represent. Our clients are all public and nonprofit entities that are directly working to better our environment. The necessary skills to be a lobbyist are the same across the board: analytic thinking, creative problem solving, and a passion for what you are advocating. If you enjoy crafting legislation and solving complex problems with legislative solutions, lobbying may be for you.

The Road to Environmental Lobbyist

The best first step to becoming a lobbyist is to get legislative experience in whatever form possible. Often this means putting yourself right into lobbying, government affairs, or policy-making situations. This sounds like a catch-22 if you have no experience in those areas to begin with, but it is not impossible! Look up your representatives—or even a lobbying firm you are interested in—and contact their offices about possible pro bono or volunteer opportunities. Volunteer experience or general observation can help demystify how legislators interact and collaborate, how relationships are built, and how the negotiation process for legislation is facilitated.

My path to becoming a lobbyist started with an internship in the California legislature, which turned into a paid position, ultimately giving me the experience I needed to become a full-time legislative aide. When the opportunity presented itself to transition from the legislature to the “third house,” how lobbying is often referred, I felt confident in my understanding of the nuts and bolts of the legislative process.

Legal Education and Lobbying: A Perfect Match

Although a law degree is not required to be a lobbyist, there are definitive benefits to legal education. My legal education prepared me to undertake the challenges of being a lobbyist because it gave me a better understanding of advocating for a position.

Many of the core lessons incorporated within the curriculum at any law school—analytic thinking, crafting arguments, legal writing, and even issue spotting—align with the core knowledge lobbyists use. Lobbyists rely heavily on their ability to provide concrete evidence and information clearly and succinctly. Sometimes that includes translating a client’s goals into statutory language form, creating an analysis of the potential environmental effects of a legislative proposal, negotiating amendments to legislation, or simply compiling data on a specific legislator’s district to encourage support for a proposal. Legal training prepares you to excel in all of these areas.

A lawyer assists in navigating the law, and a lobbyist assists in navigating the crafting of law. In many ways, the two professions are interconnected: the understanding of one can significantly influence the ability to excel in the other.

To those interested in lobbying as a career: find an issue or organization that you are passionate about, get the practical skills you need to understand the legislative process and apply the knowledge you gained in law school (and in practice) to advocate for that passion. I wanted to ensure there was a voice for the environment in politics and that when funds are allocated to meet environmental goals, there is an equitable distribution of those resources, including to underserved communities.