Environmental lawyers can challenge water quality issues, land use and nuclear waste at power plants. They might also counsel municipalities, manufacturers or developers on how to minimize their environmental impact.1 Environmental law can be an excellent career, especially for those who have prior experience in a regulated industry, regulatory body or advocacy group.
This post will explore the best environmental law jobs, what they encompass and where to look for them.
What do environmental lawyers do?
The duties of a lawyer vary, depending on where he or she might work. Environmental lawyers might do any of the following:2
- Represent a person or organization in court
- Counsel clients on their legal rights and obligations
- Write and/or interpret laws and regulations
- Argue cases
- Advise executives about legal ramifications of business activities
- Prepare and file legal documents
Where are the top environmental law jobs?
Most environmental law jobs are found in legal services, and the highest-paying jobs are in the federal government. As of May 2020, the median annual wage for lawyers was $126,930.2
Environmental lawyers might work for any of the following:3
1. Energy Producers
Energy companies need corporate counsel to provide legal support for due diligence, land campaigns, procurement, acquisitions, joint ventures, sales, construction and disputes.
An environmental lawyer might be a good fit to provide legal counsel for a manufacturing company. In this role, a lawyer would prepare, draft and negotiate commercial agreements and manage real estate, environmental and regulatory compliance matters.
3. Commercial Developers
Commercial developers often rely on counsel to prepare and/or review real estate-related agreements, as well as assist with land use, zoning, entitlement and matters related to environmental law.
Municipalities hire environmental attorneys to support the city’s land-use functions. Attorneys may also advise other city departments on legal regulatory and environmental issues, as well as support the planning board. Attorneys may represent the city before administrative agencies, in municipal or water court, at board and commission meetings or in real property transactions.
5. Conservancy Groups
Environmental attorneys are the perfect fit for conservancy groups. The attorney’s role is to provide policy analysis, make recommendations and develop advocacy goals at the local, state and federal levels on issues such as water resource and wetlands issues. Other activities might include educating governmental agencies, acting as spokesperson for the media and assisting with grant proposals and reports.
6. Law Firms
Both large and small law firms might hire associates who specialize in environmental law to assist community groups or corporations.
7. Public Utility Commissions
In this role, environmental attorneys evaluate utility applications, prepare legal filings, provide counsel to executives and form substantive positions on issues affecting overall utility regulation.
8. Advocacy Groups
In an advocacy organization, an environmental attorney would work with others to achieve environmental justice, such as defending open space and implementing clean-energy solutions.
9. Waste Disposal Companies
Waste disposal companies hire in-house counsel to support field operations, environmental and regulatory matters, health and safety issues, facility permits, government and regulatory affairs, real estate and litigation.
10. Federal Government Agencies
Many agencies and departments within the Federal Government hire environmental lawyers, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Air Force, the National Security Agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Central Intelligence Agency and more.
Job Descriptions for Environmental Lawyers
In general, environmental lawyers are concerned with any issues that affect the environment and public health. An environmental lawyer might fulfill the responsibilities of these roles:
1. Staff Attorney–Federal Agency
Federal agency attorneys represent the agency by bringing enforcement actions to court or defending the agency under environmental regulations and laws.
2. Staff Attorney–Legislative Body
State and federal legislature attorneys counsel legislators on environmental issues and aid in drafting policies that have direct or indirect impact on the environment.
3. Staff Attorney–Public Interest Organizations
Staff attorneys who work for public-interest organizations help to address environmental issues by litigating, advocating, educating and organizing within communities.
4. Attorney–International Environmental Law
International environmental attorneys represent governments, international bodies, corporations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to draft international laws, arbitrate and negotiate to resolve global issues such as pollution and biodiversity.
5. Attorney–Climate Change
Climate change attorneys rewrite environmental regulations and interpret and amend current laws to address changing climate conditions.
6. Attorney–Natural Resources
Natural resources attorneys write regulations or lobby and litigate to ensure the protection of natural resources such as water, minerals, timber and land.
7. Attorney–Water Quality and Use
Water law attorneys litigate, lobby and campaign to ensure that communities have access to safe and reliable drinking water.
Energy law attorneys work in compliance, ensuring that energy companies and other involved parties follow the laws and regulations concerning price structures, energy conservation and emissions.
9. Department Director
Department directors advise corporations on best practices for making environmentally sound business decisions. Attributes needed for this type of position include knowledge of the law and exceptional organizational and leadership skills.
10. Policy Advisor
Policy advisors research and analyze environmental regulations, procedures and practices, and they summarize new scientific research to provide policy briefs regarding environmental impact for lawmakers and agencies.
Make an impact with a career in environmental law.
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Join the Tulane Law School and build your knowledge of resource protections, environmental tort law, regulations that govern pollution and hazardous waste and the overall complexity of their administration. The essential legal skills you obtain at Tulane will have long-term influence on your career, your community and the planet.
1. Retrieved on July 5, 2021 from americanbar.org/groups/young_lawyers/publications/tyl/topics/environmental-law/different-career-paths-environmental-law/
2. Retrieved on July 5, 2021 from www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm
3. Retrieved on July 5, 2021 from americanbar.org/groups/young_lawyers/publications/tyl/topics/environmental-law/different-career-paths-environmental-law/