Environmental and energy law and related fields are dynamic and complex areas of the law that encompass a wide range of practice areas and approaches. Much of the field addresses public administrative and regulatory law, but the field (particularly energy and real estate law) also includes complex business transactions and financial instruments. There are thus many different ways to practice (and prepare to practice) in this area. All students interested in this area should be sure to explore the courses offered in our summer environmental law program. Students interested in international environmental law should also explore the International Environmental Law Pathway.
Environmental lawyers often find it hugely rewarding to work on behalf of “clients” who can’t speak for themselves—trees, wildlife, groundwater, wilderness areas, wetlands, and river corridors. Protecting these interests helps human populations, too, by ensuring breathable air, drinkable water, and green, livable cities and towns. That said, you may also find environmental law to be a daunting specialty for at least three reasons. First, environmental lawyers need to be generalists. Almost nothing you study in law school is totally irrelevant to the practice of environmental law—as an environmental lawyer, you may find yourself applying principles you learned in bankruptcy law, criminal law, property law, tax law, or even securities regulation. It also helps to have some background in ecology, chemistry, geology, or another scientific field. Second, domestic environmental law is highly technical and regulatory. You’ll find yourself parsing arcane statutory or regulatory language, wading through acronyms like EPA, ERCLA, PPM, and NAAQS, and even doing some rudimentary math to figure out whether a client’s emissions exceed the relevant pollution threshold. Third, and most important, the environmental issues that confront the United States and the world, including climate change and biodiversity loss, are less visible but more intractable than those that confronted earlier generations of environmental lawyers. We hope you’ll view all of this as a challenge rather than a warning—rise to this occasion, and you’ll find yourself in a field full of interesting questions and smart and committed people.
Energy lawyers face some of the same challenges as described with environmental law above. It is technical and regulatory, related to areas of science and engineering, and many of the intractable environmental issues (such as climate change) are also issues energy issues. In addition, energy law is also often transactional, involving issues of corporate finance, securities regulation and corporate structure. It thus provides interesting career opportunities that blend private business transactions with important public policy implications.
Environmental and energy lawyers may find themselves working in a host of practice locations, from representing domestic nonprofits or international nongovernmental organizations, to working for federal or state regulatory agencies, to advising and representing businesses on regulatory compliance matters, to structuring private transactions for the development and distribution of energy resources. Here are some basic guidelines in considering course planning with an eye to practicing in the environmental and energy law field.