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Environmental Lawyer  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotOil spills, deforestation and air pollution. Each of these environmental problems has sparked an array of laws and regulations. Someone has to write and interpret those laws. Environmental lawyers are the experts on environmental legislation, and these days their services are in great demand.

dotThese lawyers may work for three interests in the environment: public, corporate and government. Those who work for the public usually work in either legal reform or litigation.

In reform work, lawyers comment on, critique and help draft government environmental legislation. Litigation work involves the courts in disputes over the interpretation of current laws. Sometimes this work involves taking the government to court over its failure to follow its own processes.

dotRamani Nadarajah works for a government environmental law association. She says the field requires wide legal knowledge. "Sometimes constitutional law is involved, sometimes even criminal law."

dotCorporate environmental lawyers work in the interests of their client. Today many companies are looking to environmental lawyers to help them interpret and follow government guidelines.

Peter Newell reviews laws for banks that want to know how loan documents should be drawn up: loans must ensure borrowers comply with environmental legislation. Newell says it's a question of liability. Banks want to ensure things are done right so there's no risk of being liable if the borrower goes broke.

dotGovernment environmental lawyers do work similar to that of public interest reform lawyers. They help draft environmental legislation and critique current laws.

Marshall Burgess is a government environmental lawyer. Many governments are now consolidating environmental laws brought in over the last 20 years in an effort to make them easier to work with.

"It's a very interesting area," says Burgess. "Something's happening all the time, so it's been quite exciting."

dotLaw professor Karin Mickelson says environmental lawyers are also needed to interpret and advise governments on standards set out by international treaties. She says academia, the United Nations and local and national governments are some of the areas in which international environmental lawyers work.

dotEnvironmental law now involves practically every area of the law. According to Cameron May, a legal text publishing company, these are some of the areas in which environmental law may play a part: property transactions, company acquisitions, torts, banking and finance, litigation, project finance, trade, insurance, planning and land use, health and safety, public law, international and criminal law.

dotWhatever interest they represent, environmental lawyers typically work in an office. Like other lawyers, a lot of time is spent researching cases in libraries and searching through expert documentation.

At a Glance

Pursue environmental legal interests for the public, corporate and government sectors

  • Environmental problems have sparked a ton of regulation and litigation
  • Environmental lawyers typically work in an office
  • Get a general degree; don't specialize in university