Career Path Introduction
Environmental and energy law consists of the statutes at the federal, state and local levels, along with treaties and common law, that govern how individuals and organizations use natural resources. Environmental and energy lawyers advise and represent individuals, corporations, nonprofits and government entities that deal with environment-related issues and obligations.
Broad areas of environmental law include pollution control, natural resources law, land-use law, environmental justice, international environmental law, climate change, food law and water law. A burgeoning area of environmental law is "green law," in which practitioners advise clients on ways they can preserve the environment through long-term sustainability strategies, alternative sources of energy and other green standards.
Environmental and energy lawyers can be found in law firms, government agencies, public interest organizations and large corporations. Corporate clients represent a variety of industries, including waste disposal, energy, utilities, green energy, mining, forestry, agriculture and fishing. Government employers include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and various state regulatory agencies. Public interest employers range from neighborhood environmental justice organizations to the National Wildlife Federation, Oceana and Greenpeace International.
On a typical day, environmental or energy lawyers may advise clients on regulatory compliance, Superfund clean-up, or carbon-trading programs. They may be in court prosecuting toxic torts or representing neighborhood groups against local industrialists. They may draft legislation or advise government policymakers. They may counsel international clients on cross-border compliance or represent developers before zoning appeals boards.
Environmental and energy lawyers benefit from strong legal writing skills, outstanding negotiating skills, and the ability to work with scientists and engineers involved in environmental research and testing.
During law school, prospective environmental and energy practitioners can gain valuable experience as externs in a variety of settings, including the EPA, the Illinois Attorney General's Office, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Many also compete on law school moot court teams and serve as editors of student-run publications involving environmental law.
Related Chicago-Kent offerings:
Chicago-Kent offers a J.D. Certificate in Environmental and Energy Law to provide students with firm grounding in the core legal principles of environmental law as well as an understanding of the underlying scientific, economic and ethical concepts that inform environmental and energy policy.
>> Learn about the certificate program curriculum and requirements.
>> Visit the J.D. Certificate Program in Environmental and Energy Law faculty page to learn about Chicago-Kent faculty who teach courses relating to this area of practice.
The Environmental Law Society (ELS) awards students pursuing low-paying or unpaid environmental advocacy positions with summer fellowships. ELS sponsors speaker events and volunteer outings, and takes part in the Illinois State Bar Environmental Law Conference each spring. In addition, ELS seeks to continually improve Chicago-Kent's sustainability through yearly campaigns.
The Journal of Environmental and Energy Law is a student-run online journal providing a full analysis of legal developments and issues related to environmental and energy law, as well as fostering a discussion between students, professors, alumni and practicing attorneys.