Who should you call if there is an environmental problem causing issues for your mental or physical health and causing wage or job loss? Who do you sue when pollution is tainting the ground, black oil is destroying the beautiful sandy beaches, or the unfiltered smoke from a nearby factoring is causing locals to develop asthma?
An environmental lawyer can help with these issues.
An environmental lawyer’s job is to represent cases that involve the environment, including upholding or challenging policies at the local, state, or federal level and defending restrictions and limits between those with private property. They can defend the environment and its wildlife or endangered species in the event of contamination or harm by human activity. Some environmental cases have no human client, as environmental “clients” could be rivers, ocean, a region of air, a bird migration route, or another part of the natural world.
What Is an Environmental Lawyer?
The need for environmental lawyers has grown exponentially in the past two decades. A few of the biggest contributions to the rise of environmental lawyers and the entire field of environmental law are the advancement of science, the detection of toxins and harmful chemicals. Thousands of studies that have monitored the effects of many types of human activity on the natural world.
The drastic rise in world populations and the ever-growing need for urban building and planning than ever before is a contributor as well. And let’s not forget the now present danger of global warming.
But what exactly is an environmental lawyer?
The field of environmental law is vast, as it can involve any type of environmental case. Ultimately, an environmental lawyer’s job is to represent the environment, like the land, air, water, plants, and animals. Their work can improve new technologies vital to the care and maintenance of a region. As legal advocates they can also force companies to adhere to the strict regulations set forth by the government. Furthermore, they can help create new policies so that land, sea, and air are not polluted or corrupted by human activity.
What Kind of Cases Do Environmental Lawyers Take On?
Different types of issues exist in environmental law, including water, land, air, and smog protection, improper hazardous waste disposal, protection of natural resources, energy, agriculture, real estate, and insurance, and the effects of climate change.
Here are just of few of the most common cases that environmental lawyers are involved in:
- Supervises the construction of buildings (commercial, residential, or private) on protected land as regulations cannot be violated during the building process.
- Defends the environment against illegal corporate practices, including contamination.
- Uphold environmental policy and law
- Criminal cases of fires and hazardous waste
- Air and water quality
- Green standards, renewable energy and climate change law
- Fights against improper waste disposal and resulting contamination
- Defends the rights of endangered species and stop human activity from further harming them.
- Ensures protection and proper treatment of animals at zoos, circuses, and other entertainment venues.
Related: What are the Main Laws that Protect the Environment?
Who Hires an Environmental Lawyer?
Environmental law practitioners can be a part of many organizations, including private law firms, public sectors, and public interest and advocacy groups.
Environmental lawyers are integral employees in government and can be found on every level of government, like federal, state, and local. Working for local government means being employed by the government of a town, city, region, municipality, or unincorporated area. Any lawyer working for a part of the government is known as a public lawyer.
Most lawyers will work for a private firm. A private firm could be two independent lawyers working together in a law practice or a multitude of lawyers paid by a corporation.
Public interest law firms are law firms that are like private practice, but they are dedicated to the protection of the environment and helping society. A public interest law firm can specialize in animal treatment, air quality, corporate contamination, and damage, etc., And they practice for profit.
Nonprofits and Advocacy groups lawyers do not work for-profit, although they do receive a salary from the organization. Environmental lawyers who work for nonprofits dedicate their time to the good of society.
In the United States, many federal agencies are dedicated to the natural environment and its protection, maintenance. Some of these Government Agencies include:
- The Environmental Protection Agency – EPA
- The United States Department of the interior – DOI
- The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
- The National Park Service
- The National Ocean Service
- The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
- Department of Justice – DOJ
- United States Department of Agriculture – USDA
- Department of Energy – DOE
What Is the Difference Between an Environmental Lawyer and an Environmental Consultant?
While an environmental lawyer has a background in law, an environmental consultant will have a background based and environmental policy and environmental science. Many environmental consultants will also have a smaller background in engineering, safety regulations, sustainability, and construction.
The job description of an environmental consultant is to consult governments, think tanks, nonprofits, policymakers, and other organizations to identify more sustainable methods and resources. They can also create multi-year transition plans to improve sustainability. For example, they could be hired to help an organization cut down on the number of emissions they produce.
How Can an Environmental Lawyer Help the Average Citizen?
Navigating the world of environmental issues and policies can overwhelm people and discourage them from seeking the resolution they deserve. Here is how hiring an environmental lawyer can help their client who doesn’t have the resources of a mega-corporation.
Compensation and Cleanup
Environmental attorneys can obtain coverage or compensation for the client in the event of damage to their health or private property. Through the representation of a lawyer, their client may receive monetary compensation that covers medical bills, lost wages due to medical issues, money equivalent to the value of their private property in the event of a major catastrophe. They can also help their client secure cleanup and restoration if the land, water, or air is polluted.
Related: What are the Different Types of Ocean Pollution? And What Laws Protect the Oceans?
Class Action Lawsuits
If a group of people is affected by the environment around them, they can hire an environmental lawyer who can help them find the cause and start a class action lawsuit. Because of the resources law firms have, lawyers can also find other people affected by the environment, so everyone can receive compensation.
Policy changes and new environmental regulations
Many regions have ongoing issues, but the government that oversees the area has never taken solid actions to protect the natural land or its inhabitants. Suppose the only true protection to the environment in that region is policy change. Environmental lawyers serve as advisors and represent the needs of the area to the government and advocate for changes in how the area is protected. They can also push for consequences if the region is neglected or abused.
If there is an environmental issue causing significant hardships to those in the area, an environmental lawyer can secure short-term protection. For example, if there is a major issue with toxic air and runoff from a nearby factory, the lawyer will be able to fight on behalf of their client for protection. They can secure new temporary housing in a hotel or fight for a stipend so the client can find a place to live until the issue is resolved.
Related: What is the Importance of Environmental Law?
How Does One Become an Environmental Lawyer?
The path to becoming an environmental lawyer is like other law specializations. However, after grad school, graduate students can further education and practice environmental topics.
To become an Environmental Lawyer, undergrad students must obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. If an environmental law student attended a foreign university, they may study at the graduate level when they come to the US.
Many foreign universities worldwide have partnered with American universities or are recognized by the US educational system. If the school is accredited, the student will transfer the credits and their degree to the states.
University students interested in an environmental career should enroll in critical classes such as organic chemistry, environmental science, environmental law, environmental sustainability, science wildlife biology, forestry, atmospheric science, etc. If they can obtain a double major in environmental science, sustainability, or even environmental policy, it will add to their qualifications.
Once one finishes their undergraduate degree, they must take the LSAT and achieve a high enough score to pass the LSAT and enter a law school. There is no true passing score, but 120 is the unofficial minimum score to qualify for the average law school. The highest score is 180. Depending on the school they want to go to, the undergrad student may have to take a second law school admission test to prove they have the qualifications to enter. Ivy League schools will have a second admissions test.
Once accepted into law school, it will take around 3 years to complete their education and earn a Juris Doctor (JD). A Juris Doctor is the degree lawyers receive after passing the bar exam.
Once a graduate student is finished graduate school, they can enroll in a master’s program, like a Masters’ of Environmental Law or an environmental Ph.D. or doctorate degree program. Those wanting to work as an environmental lawyer can obtain an internship with an environment-centered organization like a private firm or a nonprofit.
Final Thoughts – What Do Environmental Lawyers Do?
Environmental law is continuously growing and changing as humans continue to change, contaminate, and influence the natural world. It is the job of environmental lawyers to defend the rights of a region, ensure that companies are following the regulations put forth by the government, and help citizens hurt by contaminated land receive the compensation they are entitled to.