How to Become an Environmental Lawyer
Environmental law encompasses a broad area of legal issues, laws and regulations having to do with the environment. These include, but are not limited to, air quality, water quality, protection of species, hazardous waste, wetlands, agriculture, waste management, biodiversity, sustainability strategies, alternative energy sources, and green initiatives. Environmental lawyers are called upon to handle all of these issues and more, as well as advising clients on sustainability, green standards, climate change, global warming and legislation and regulations involving the environment.
An environmental lawyer type is responsible for understanding the many, varied, and ever-changing laws and regulations pertaining to our environment. They represent a wide range of clients in environmental case law and legislation. Many environmental lawyers enter the field through a love of the outdoors and of protecting the natural world in which we live.
Environmental lawyers are often required to appear in federal, state, and administrative law courts. They may be representing government agencies, businesses, non-profit organizations, as well as private citizens.
Major federal environmental laws with which environmental lawyers must be familiar include (but are not limited to):
- The Clean Air Act of 1963
- The Clean Water Act of 1972
- The National Environmental Policy Act of 1970
- The Endangered Species Act of 1973
- The Comprehensive Environmental Response and Conservation Act of 1980
Education Required to Become an Environmental Lawyer
Pre-law undergraduate education is your first step towards becoming an environmental lawyer. Contrary to popular belief, an undergraduate degree in science is not necessary in order to become an environmental lawyer. Related fields such as government relations, public policy and real estate law are all beneficial to environmental lawyers. Business courses can also help lawyers of all specialties, including environmental lawyers.
Likewise, when you attend law school, you need not specialize in environmental law (especially if your law school does not offer such as specialization). After attaining your Juris Doctor degree, you must pass the bar examination in the state(s) sin which you wish to practice law. Some schools offer specialty certification for environmental lawyers as well, which you may opt to complete but which is not mandatory in order to practice environmental law. The American Bar Association (ABA) provides a listing of certificate programs if you are interested in choosing a school that offers certification in environmental law.
Pick from the links below, depending on your education level that best describes your situation:
- Pre-law Undergraduate Programs
- Online and Campus Law and Legal Studies Programs
- ABA-Accredited Law Schools – Juris Doctor (JD) Degree
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Job Description & Skills Required for an Environmental Lawyer
Environmental lawyers may work in government, for non-profit organizations, within the private sector for businesses, or for private public interest law firms. An environmental lawyer is not always the enemy of business and industry, either. Some may represent companies that have environmental regulations to follow. The job description of an environmental lawyer includes both regulatory practice and litigation work. Job duties and skills required for environmental lawyers are broad and may include:
- Drafting legislation for environmental law
- Lobbying elected officials
- Advising policymakers at all levels of government
- Designing new regulations and rules regarding the environment
- Developing innovate approaches to things like permitting
- Coordinating community education and outreach
- Engaging in public policy discussions at conferences and academic institutions
- Support business and property transactions for land conservation
- Negotiate financing deals for renewable energy companies
- Participating in public-private partnerships experimenting in new technologies
- Consulting with industry on complying with environmental laws
- Documenting the following of environmental protection regulations
Environmental Lawyer Salary & Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) quotes the average annual salary for lawyers as of May 2021 at $148,030. This is the average salary for all categories of lawyers, including environmental lawyers. As more and more focus is placed on sustainability and protecting our environment, the need for environmental lawyers is expected to increase. The BLS notes a projected growth of ten percent for job opportunities nationwide for lawyers of all types from 2021 through 2031. According to Unity College, the demand for environmental lawyers is expected to at least maintain that pace, perhaps outpacing the expected growth of lawyers, at six percent over the next decade. BLS projects that 80,200 new lawyer jobs will be added by 2031.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Lawyers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2023.