Government agencies and the private sector have already started to recognize the benefits of having these highly specialized lawyers in their teams. According to America’s Environmental College, this job market is expected to have a 6% growth within the nearest years. By 2028 there will be more than 50,000 available jobs in environmental law.
Before you decide whether to invest time and effort in environmental law education, you need to understand its importance. Environmental law works to protect the limited resources we humans have access to - water, soil, air, and land. Thanks to it, governments can take an active role in protecting the earth and deal with anyone who treats our nature poorly.
It is an exceptionally dynamic and engaging field that makes undergraduates consider pursuing various environmental law careers. In this article, we’ll help you explore this niche and share some of the most common education paths you can take to become a professional lawyer.
6 Steps to Becoming an Environmental Lawyer
All professions require specialized education; environmental law is not an exception. While some of the careers in this industry are involved in practicing the law, others have more supportive nature, such as researchers and paralegals.
As a future expert in this niche, you’ll surely get advantages by knowing what exactly is required in order to get the degree and pursue a career. The following steps can help you make long-term plans and know what exactly to expect.
1. Complete an Undergraduate Program
Many people share a common misconception - they think they need to obtain a law-related undergrad degree to be able to get into a master of environmental law program. You can get into a law school even if you choose a non-connected specialty. In fact, it can help discover the type of jurisprudence that interests you the most.
2. Look for Internship Opportunities
Environmental law education is as important as the experience itself. This is why you should look for internship opportunities once you become an undergraduate student. This is a viable path for undergraduates in law.
However, if you are studying some other major, you can still apply for environmental lawyer assistant jobs or simply volunteer at some relevant organization. It’s a great way to start building your resume and learning the job first-hand from established professionals.
3. Get Ready for Graduate Programs
Are you familiar with The Law School Admission Test or LSAT? You will probably have to take this exam if you want to apply for a Master’s of environmental law program. It’s essential to start learning for the LSAT as soon as possible so that you can time it with the Master’s program application date.
4. Apply for Masters of Environmental Law Program
Typically, a Master's program lasts for three years. You’ll need to plan your finances ahead so that you can be consistent with your studies. In case you have both a bachelor’s degree and LSAT results, it’ll make you eligible to apply for the master of environmental law program. Just be sure to observe all the available options and submit your applications before the deadline.
5. Find Perfect Studying/Working Balance
During your master’s studies, you should continue working on your experience. Here applies the same - internships, volunteering, or assisting. This is an excellent opportunity to meet other lawyers in the niche, learn about different jobs in environmental law, and start building your contact list.
6. Pass the Bar Exam
Finally, to practice law in any state, you will have to pass the bar exam. The bar exam is only valid for the state you passed it in. If you want to practice law in some other state, you need to pass the bar exam there as well. In case you plan to be mobile, you should consider taking the Multistate Bar Exam instead.
Environmental Lawyers Job in Different Organizations
Not all jobs in environmental law are the same. If you extend your research, you will find that environmental law careers in different industries are not identical. We are not only talking about job position responsibilities but also about day-to-day tasks and long-term obligations.
Let’s cover the most common types of organization where students have an opportunity to practice law.
Many non-profit organizations or charities employ environmental lawyers. According to the largest non-profit directory, there are tens of thousands of non-profit organizations in the US including the famous Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, and The Nature Conservancy.
Lawyers in this industry often provide legal advice on disaster relief, chemical clean-up and disposal, and property law. The primary responsibility of these lawyers is to help a non-profit to stay compliant with legal guidelines.
Corporate environmental lawyers work in the private sector. They provide valuable legal counsel regarding laws and regulations in their sector. They are also called to represent the company in the court in litigation processes.
In small companies, these specialists work by themselves. However, in large corporations, environmental lawyers usually operate within a legal team.
Governments all over the world find environmental laws to be fundamental; the same applies to the US. Work in this sector is needed in Federal, State, and Local governments.
Several government agencies can’t operate without such a lawyer on board, including:
- US Department of Fish and Wildlife Service;
- Environmental Protection Agency;
- US Department of Energy;
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In private practice, environmental lawyers represent defendants or claimants in these cases. They are focused on litigation processes and operate from offices by themselves or as part of big law firms.
Environmental law private practice is a good business option for individuals living in areas with many ongoing natural resources issues.
Environmental public interest law is so broad that it often crosses paths with food and drug, constitutional, property, corporate, and international laws. It creates many opportunities for public service lawyers specializing in this type of legal regulations.
Environmental lawyers working in this niche represent the interest of people. They can also play a role in the education and civil rights reform, ensuring that new statutes reflect the high standards of environmental regulations.
Organizations and Groups for Environmental Networking
Communication and knowledge sharing is an essential part of success across professionals. It can help you put your environmental law education to use by meeting people from various industries, learning from colleagues, and finding job opportunities.
You should consider starting networking while you are a student and continue with it even when you are an established expert in your niche. Here are some of the networking opportunities for aspiring environmental law students.
Local Club at Your University
Many universities have specific clubs enabling students to socialize but also build long-term professional relationships. Ask around the campus or contact senior colleagues for such clubs. Try looking up for such clubs at other universities on LinkedIn as well.
Center for International Environmental Law
Center for International Environmental Law or CIEL is an organization that appeals to various professions closely tied to this particular type of law. It’s focused on global environmental issues and challenges. CEIL provides excellent opportunities to students interested in fellowships and internships.
The American Bar Association
The American Bar Association is open to law students. It is regarded as the best membership platform for attorneys in the US. As a student, you will benefit from free membership and receive career guidance, education, and training.
Practicing Law Institute
Practicing Law Institute is a member-based website. It caters to the needs of attorneys and law students common from various sectors and specializations. If you meet the requirements, you may even receive a premium membership at a discounted rate.
National Association of Environmental Professionals
This is a go-to organization for anyone involved in matters regarding the environment. The platform is excellent for law students who want to connect with people from various industries. If you are enrolled full-time, you are eligible to receive a 60% discount on premium membership.
Staying Involved in Environmental Law
Fortunately, staying involved in environmental law and the recent developments in the niche is straightforward today, thanks to the internet. As an ongoing or future student, you can use various online resources to assess different environmental law education programs, networks, or get familiar with other environmental law careers.
Here’s a list of 10 online resources you can use to study and be involved in environmental law:
- American Bar Association Climate Change, Sustainable Development, and Ecosystems Committee - The committee is focused on raising awareness of the jurisprudence and corporate governance and their role in adopting sustainability concepts.
- Arnold & Porter/Sabin Center for Climate Change Law: Climate Change Litigation in the US - This is a great database that you can use to find different cases related to environmental law sorted out in categories by federal statutory claims.
- Climate Law and Policy Tracker - The platform leverages Artificial Intelligence to pull and analyze policy data from official government websites. You can use it to read all about the recently proposed policies.
- Beyond Intractability - BI features a searchable database you can use to read about Environmental case studies, conflicts, justice, protection, and technology.
- 350. org - 350.org is an environmental non-profit focused on climate change and how to prevent further damaging our planet.
- Environmental Trial Lawyers Association - ETLA is a professional organization that has an excellent legal news portal on the official website.
- Cornucopia Institute - CI portal outlines the challenges of authentic organic farming, including the environmental ones.
- National Resources Defense Council - NRDC is a non-profit organization committed to safeguarding the Earth’s natural systems.
- Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide - ELAW is a great place to visit from time to time, looking for internships, volunteer, and hosting opportunities.
- Laws School Admission Council - LSAC is where you should go if you want to find the latest information on the LSAT.
As you can see, environmental law education, experience, and ongoing networking can enable you to search for the most suitable careers in different sectors. If you decide to become an environmental lawyer, please use our list of resources to stay tuned to the latest developments and follow through with the networking tips.