October 19, 20190

While some people are still denying climate change, young people across the globe are speaking out their potentially bleak environmental future: Greta Thunberg

If you are interested in becoming an environmental attorney, I offer the following considerations.

An Overview

As a lawyer, I interface with environmental issues daily. This interface occurs on both regulatory and statutory levels. It also occurs in representing different types of clients; municipal, individuals, corporations, and government.

The job of an environmental attorney includes upholding, counseling on, and advocating about regulations, statutory regimes, and policies. Initiatives related to clean water, clean air, climate change, land use, contamination, hazardous materials, and coastal zone use are customary areas of practice.

Common examples of an environmental lawyer’s clients are private clients, environmental advocacy organizations, and state and local government.  Sometimes, I provide consulting work for a client. Environmental attorneys are often hired to assist businesses with due diligence and environmental compliance, too.

Particular Areas of Practice

Recently, energy law and environmental law have come together more often. This is due to Rhode Island’s push to site more renewable energy projects in the state. There are different sets of laws and regulations that apply. However, these areas of law are fairly related.

A lawyer’s specific area of interest will dictate the areas of their practice. What do I mean by this? Some attorneys litigate, some attorneys focus on appellate work, and some attorneys handle transactions only. For an environmental attorney, all of these options are available. During the course of my career, I have assisted with application processes, business purchase and sale liability, environmental litigation, regulatory interpretation, policy, legal research, expert witness work, and project objections.

Having Science Degrees

There is discussion in the profession about whether an environmental attorney should have an undergraduate or advanced degree in science. I will be honest here; I have both types of degrees and it DOES make a difference. Let me explain. A lot of my cases involve an expert witness (or several). These experts are used in the course of learning about the case itself, as well as in providing actual testimony during a hearing or trial. How does having degrees in science factor in? It means that I have an inherent understanding of the principles the expert relies on. It also means that I don’t have to spend a lot of time researching what questions to ask the expert or how to defend the expert on cross examination. The client appreciates this time and billing savings!

It is true that a good expert witness will walk the environmental attorney through the subject matter. It is also true that the lawyer will focus on the law. However, I cannot deny the benefit of having a background in science throughout my career.

Final Thoughts

As with lawyers in other areas of expertise, environmental attorneys can work long hours. Environmental litigation is especially time consuming. Also, environmental regulations and statutes are dense, convoluted, and extensive. Reading these types of materials requires an understanding of scientific terms and legal terms. Finally, lawyers generally have to stay current on written court decisions and updates to laws.

The attorneys at Desautel Browning Law have decades of experience in environmental law. To learn more about how an environmental attorney can help you, call us at 401.477.0023 today.

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