Getting Involved in Environmental Law

This guide outlines the educational path to environmental law and postgraduate industry options to start your career.

November 9, 2021

Getting Involved in Environmental Law is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Environmental lawyers represent the Earth's interests against corporations and government entities. They may also work as in-house counsel for businesses to offer preventative practice recommendations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for lawyers to grow 4% between 2019-2029. The BLS reports that these professionals earn a median annual pay of $126,930.

This guide includes information on degree paths, potential work environments, and professional organizations for aspiring environmental lawyers.

Steps to a Concentration in Environmental Law

Pursuing an environmental law career requires thoughtful planning. This section outlines the steps required to work as an environmental lawyer. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Where to Work: Environmental Law in Practice

Environmental lawyers work in various settings and contexts. This section outlines potential work settings for environmental lawyers.

According to the BLS, 18% of all lawyers work for the federal, state, or local government. Environmental lawyers working for the government may help defend public land. When corporations or individuals cause mass pollution or other environmental harm, environmental lawyers represent the prosecution. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) often hires these individuals. Many private practices specialize in environmental law or hire several lawyers to specialize in it. Environmental lawyers can also start their own private practice. According to the BLS, 17% of lawyers are self-employed. Private practice environmental lawyers uphold laws outlined by the EPA. Corporate in-house environmental attorneys help businesses avoid environmental harm. They also work to prevent lawsuits on behalf of their clients. Lawyers who prefer to work with one client rather than many often thrive in this work environment. Public interest lawyers often represent marginalized people against corporations or government agencies. They may represent a group of people in a class-action lawsuit. For example, if a mining company causes contamination to a local water supply, a public interest lawyer may represent victims in a lawsuit. These lawyers often do not charge clients directly. Instead, they take a portion of the funds from a successful lawsuit. Nonprofit environmental lawyers work for nonprofits focused on environmental efforts. Common environmental law organizations include EarthJustice, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Center for International Public Law. Rather than charging clients for services, environmental lawyers typically rely on public donations.

Helpful Courses and Academic Experience for Students

Undergraduate schools rarely offer environmental law degrees. However, undergraduates can still choose majors and courses that prepare them for an environmental law career. For instance, political science majors study public policy relevant to a law career. Aspiring environmental lawyers also benefit from business and natural science courses.

Degrees Related to Environmental Law

This list highlights several undergraduate degrees that help prepare students for an environmental law career.

Environmental Law Professional Groups and Organizations for Students

Professional groups and organizations offer many benefits for aspiring and practicing environmental lawyers. Members can often access professional development opportunities, resources, and networking opportunities. This list highlights several law-related professional organizations.

This group primarily serves law students. Learners can access study tips and internship opportunities. They can also read about potential career paths. This group advocates for sustainable education through conferences and professional development opportunities. The website includes resources like a campus sustainability tool kit. This group advocates for corporate accountability, forest protection, and toxic exposure prevention. Students can access job and internship postings on this site. They can also access research publications. This organization provides unbiased information about environmental practices. The group supports environmental lawyers through networking and professional development opportunities.

Environmental Law Research and Resources

The environment's health can change rapidly and significantly. Therefore, environmental lawyers must stay updated on information relevant to the environment and their profession. This list highlights several environmental law resources.

This organization focuses on eliminating fossil fuels and promoting renewable energy. The site provides information and resources on how to creatively combat climate crises. This group provides resources intended to spark long-lasting environmental change. Attorneys, scientists, and advocates can join grassroots sustainability campaigns through the organization. Many environmental lawyers ensure that corporations follow EPA regulations. The website provides information about environmental acts like the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This association offers resources for attorneys asserting environmental claims. Environmental lawyers can list their contact information on the Find a Lawyer page. This organization administers the LSAT. The website provides study tools and assistance with choosing a law school. It also offers information on various environmental law career paths.

Advice from an Environmental Law Expert

James L. Ferraro

James L. Ferraro is a practicing environmental litigation attorney. His firms in Miami and Cleveland represent nearly 50,000 asbestos claimants, and he has made a career in wrongful death, medical malpractice, and environmental law.

In 1997, he was one of 10 national finalists for Trial Lawyer of the Year for his case Castillo vs. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company and Pine Island Farms. The trial is documented in his book, Blindsided. In 2015, Ferraro was named Plaintiff's Attorney of the Year after trying an asbestos case that resulted in a $17.17 million verdict.

In addition to practicing law, he's a member of many organizations, including the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation, the Board of Directors of the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, Inc., and the Advisory Board of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida.

Q. What makes environmental law a rewarding area to work in?

Environmental law is an area with little infrastructure in place to protect the public, so lawyers play such a large role in it. While the EPA has great intentions, it has never been funded properly, so the responsibility falls into the hands of the attorney to make a difference.

For example, in 1996, I took on DuPont in a decade-long battle to help bring justice to the family of a young boy born with no eyes. His mother was doused outside of a local u-pick farm by a chemical fungicide believed to have caused his birth defect. The case was turned down 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 I won. It was one of the most rewarding moments of my life, and it is described in detail in my new book Blindsided.

Q. What qualities do environmental lawyers need to be successful?

They need to be risk-takers and creative lawyers. They must also think outside of the box and like a detective. For a successful environmental law career, you have to be a creator because there isn't a lot of infrastructure in place. 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.

Q. What advice would you give to students who are interested in environmental law?

It's not going to be easy, but it will be very rewarding. You need to be diligent, focused, and organized. 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. Environmental law is not for everybody, but it is perfect for the creative and energetic lawyer who wants to make a difference.

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