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What does an environmental lawyer do?

Environmental lawyers may have litigation, transactional and/or regulatory practices. Here are some areas of specialization:

Compliance lawyers assist businesses that carry out environmentally sensitive functions in complying with the complex body of federal, state and local environmental law. Areas of expertise include air and water quality, the treatment of hazardous waste, and the protection of wetlands and endangered species.

Environmental cleanup lawyers deal with “Superfund” sites that must be cleaned up under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). These lawyers help clients determine whether a site must be cleaned and who is required to clean it. They also manage investigations into site conditions, negotiate and challenge cleanup orders, and settle claims with regulators.

Toxic tort and environmental litigators handle claims brought by federal and state enforcement agencies, as well as toxic tort lawsuits, product liability cases and insurance coverage actions. These cases often involve complex technical and scientific testimony.

Transactional environmental lawyers counsel clients on environmental and land-use issues arising from business and real property deals. They perform due-diligence investigations into environmental risks and negotiate contracts that allocate liabilities among business partners. They also help businesses secure water, land-use and other types of permits and approvals.

Public-interest environmental lawyers may practice in many of the same areas, but instead of working on behalf of companies they work for governmental agencies, nonprofit organizations and/or community groups.


  • What skills do I need to be an environmental lawyer?

    Environmental lawyers should have an interest in regulatory issues and administrative law. They need to pay careful attention to detail and be able to condense many facts into a persuasive narrative. Strong written and oral advocacy skills are crucial, and a technical background may be helpful in some areas.
  • What kinds of jobs are available for environmental lawyers?

    Most environmental lawyers work in the private sector, either at law firms or in corporate law departments. They help clients receive environmental approvals or help defend clients against alleged violations. Some attorneys work for federal or state enforcement agencies either as regulatory attorneys or as prosecutors or defenders of actions taken by the agencies themselves. Federal agencies in Washington, D.C., and Maryland include the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. State agencies include the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of the Environment, Maryland Environmental Service and the Maryland Energy Administration. Environmental lawyers also work for nonprofits, where they advocate for greater environmental regulation and enforcement.

  • What courses should I take?

    Business law courses are especially useful for transactional environmental attorneys, while litigation courses are particularly relevant for environmental litigators. All environmental lawyers should consider:

    Administrative Law • Maryland Administrative Law • Animal Law Seminar • Environmental Law • Coastal Law Seminar • Environmental and Toxic Torts Seminar • International Environmental Law Seminar • Journal of Land and Development • Land Use • Maritime Law • Federal Income Tax • Estate and Gift Tax • Estate Planning Workshop • Tax Policy Seminar • any course offered in the Graduate Tax Program

    Look into cross-registering for relevant business school offerings.

  • What co-curricular and volunteer activities should I consider?

    If you are interested in environmental litigation, consider participating in Moot Court to gain as much general litigation experience as possible during law school. Find UB alumni who practice environmental law on www.martindale.com and set up informational interviews. Working as an extern or a law clerk at a law firm, state or federal agency or nonprofit with an environmental practice is the best way to secure a job after graduation. You can find environmental advocacy organizations, as well as externship opportunities, on www.pslawnet.org.

  • Who should I talk to for more information?