Now you’re in law school. What should you take?

Now you’re in law school. What should you take?

There is more than one path to environmentally friendly work.

On Monday, I shared why it’s especially urgent for new law students to think about the climate crisis and how they can contribute as lawyers. The next question is how to prepare for this job.

Here is what I would say to a student in this situation:

The first thing to realize is that you can contribute without being an “environmental advocate” in the conventional sense. If you work in business, you can focus on ESG (environment, social and governance). This is a lively area of ​​practice and likely to become more important. If you become an intellectual property lawyer, there is work to be done on clean energy technologies. Or you can work for the government – for example, as someone who prosecutes environmental crimes.

An important area of ​​work concerns the energy sector. Clean energy has grown rapidly, and Congress recently provided an additional $379 billion to clean up our energy system. That means a lot new start-ups, expansions of existing energy companies, complicated financing deals – and lots of work for new business lawyers, who can put their expertise to work for businesses while helping save the planet at the same time. This is going to be a growth area for law firms and therefore an attractive career path for new lawyers.

The second thing to realize is that there are very important fields adjacent to the environment:

  • Energy law. Energy regulation is increasingly linked to the need to reduce carbon emissions. Energy regulation matters because economic incentives need to be in the right place for the energy transition to happen.
  • Land Use Act. Land use law also has important links with environmental law. Traditional land use law is linked to urban sprawl, a big problem in terms of carbon emissions and urban air pollution. There are many rules governing land use planning, not all of which are incorporated into zoning laws. The Endangered Species Act can have a significant effect on land use in some parts of the country.
  • Social justice lawyer. Given the growing importance of environmental justice, civil rights and other inequality-focused courses may offer a different avenue for working on environmental issues.

For each of these different pathways, there may also be different most relevant environmental pathways. So if you happen to be at a school that offers a wide range of environmental courses, thinking about these different avenues can help you decide which are most relevant.

Sadly, that’s a minority of schools, judging from what I’ve seen looking at law school catalogs. If you want to specialize in environmental law but are not at a law school that offers many environmental law courses, you should consider adjacent areas such as land use planning and energy law as offering relevant alternative courses.

One last thing I would emphasize is that if you want to be an environmental lawyer — as opposed to, say, a business lawyer whose work involves ESG issues — you really need to take a course in the law. administrative. You might think the topic sounds dry, but it’s at the heart of disputes in our country over government regulation. Not all environmental legislation involves government regulations, but over 90% of them are.

There may also be opportunities to take courses outside of law school; participate in student groups focusing on the environment; or to write about environmental issues in seminars, independent study courses, or law journals. If you’re at a school that doesn’t do much in environmental law, you may need to be entrepreneurial to seek out new opportunities.

Whether you’re at a school with lots of environmental offerings or one of the many that only have a few, there are plenty of paths to follow. Whichever you choose, you can help save the world from an unsustainable future. But don’t wait too long. We need you right away.

energy law, environmental justice, careers in environmental law, land use planning law, law school

Jon J. Epps