McGeorge School of Law

Pathways | Environmental

Three egrets over delta at sunset

Environmental law is a complex body of court decisions, regulations and statutes from the local to international levels. It serves to ensure a balance between the consumption of natural resources and its impact on human health and the environment. While the federal government plays a major role in shaping environmental law, much of it is played out on state and local levels. In particular, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a key law that affects many environmental lawyers in this state, regardless of their specialty.

California leads the nation in developing innovative environmental laws. Located in the lawmaking capital, McGeorge is poised to take advantage of its position. Alumni working in this field say it’s important that students show potential employers they have an interest in environmental law. The Sacramento environmental law community is small, and alumni recommend that students gain access through networking and taking advantage of internships in law firms, government agencies and environmental nonprofit organizations.

Successful environmental lawyers often have worked in the field before law school or have academic degrees, whether undergraduate or advanced, in a science- or environmental-related field. A scientific background can help an attorney decipher complex studies, interview expert witnesses and give an advantage in the job search, although it’s not a requirement. Environmental law offers diverse ways to practice that include advocating in a private firm for resource users such as water districts or farmers, defending government statutes in a private or public interest firm, creating laws that reduce pollution or protect resources, or setting policy.


Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning │ Clinics

  • Legislative and Public Policy Clinic (853)
  • Administrative Adjudication Clinic (820)

Experiential Learning │ Externships

  • Semester in Practice (961)
  • Special Externship (957)

Skills

Substantive

Environmental law attorneys spend their time negotiating and analyzing environmental issues with clients and colleagues. They also draft statutes and regulations, memos, agreements, litigation documents, or materials for community outreach. The following is a list of the top skills an environmental lawyer needs:

  • Creative problem-solving
  • Strong interpersonal communication
  • Negotiation
  • Oral advocacy
  • Writing
  • Interest in science

Co-Curricular

The below-listed activities will help you demonstrate a genuine interest in environmental law. Those activities not directly related to environmental law will build the communication and advocacy skills needed to succeed in this practice area.

  • Mock Trial
  • Moot Court
  • Judicial clerkship or externship
  • Environmental law internship or clinic experience
  • Work for any administrative agency
  • Volunteer for an environmental group
  • Join a student group focused on environmental law

Practice Settings & Clients

Practice Settings

Small firms and solo offices make up the majority of family law and estate planning practitioners. However, government agencies, large firms, and public interest organizations also play a role these areas of law. Federal and state departments of health and human services, prosecutors’ offices, and public guardian offices practice some types of family law, for example, usually dealing with issues of termination of parental rights, child support collection, and guardianship proceedings. Some large firms have family law and estate planning departments to help address their existing clients’ needs. Public interest organizations sometimes assist indigent clients with matters such as probate, immigration or even the drafting of simple wills.

Clients

Family law and estate planning attorneys represent individuals, not corporations or other organizations. Some attorneys represent mostly (or exclusively) clients with a lot of wealth and a large number of assets, while others focus their practice on people of more modest means or are appointed by the court to represent indigents. In cases involving the termination of parental rights, an attorney may be appointed by the court to serve as a guardian ad litem who will represent the child’s interests or the attorney may be hired to represent the parents against whom the allegations of abuse or neglect have been brought. Adoption attorneys usually represent adoptive parents but may also represent birth parents.

Professional Resources

The regulations and statutes governing environmental law are constantly changing. It is important for attorneys working in this practice area to stay current on the latest developments in the law and how laws are being applied. Good resources to consult include:

  • American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources
  • The Environmental Law Reporter
  • The National Law Review — Energy, EPA, Climate & Environmental Law News
  • Law360 — Environmental
  • Environmental Law News — The official publication of the State Bar of California’s Environmental Law Section