What makes environmental law a rewarding area to work in?
Environmental Law is one of the areas that has little infrastructure in place to protect the public, so the lawyers play such a large role. While the EPA has great intentions, it has never been funded properly, so the responsibility falls into the hands of the attorney to truly make a difference. Even more so today, because funding has been cut even more, so there’s very little in place to keep companies honest, besides lawyers who are willing to take a chance.
A perfect example of this was in 1996, when I took on the chemical giant, DuPont, in a decade-long battle to help bring justice to the family of a young boy born with no eyes after his mother was doused outside of a local u-pick farm by a chemical fungicide believed to have caused his birth defect and the birth defects of many other children. The case was turned away by major law firms, because it was going to be so difficult to prove, but I decided to take on the case to bring justice to the family and prevent this from happening to anyone else—and ultimately, I won. It was one of the most rewarding moments of my life, and is described in detail in my new book Blindsided.
What qualities do environmental lawyers need to be successful?
They need to be risk takers and creative lawyers, and be able to think out of the box and think like a detective. In order to be successful in environmental law, you have to be a creator, because there isn’t a lot of infrastructure currently in place to follow. There’s also a big crossover between science and law, so you need to be interested in science and be able to apply it to the law like an investigator.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in environmental law?
Its not going to be easy, but it will be very rewarding. You need to be diligent, focused, organized and make a clear plan. You’re going to be up against giant chemical companies and the best of the best, so you need to make a smart plan and have a good fight. Be patient, and be willing to ride out the storm. Environmental law is not for everybody, but is perfect for the creative and energetic lawyer who wants to make a difference. You also have to have thick skin, because the big companies will try and out lawyer you, but you need to stick it out.