Career Development

What Does an Environmental Lawyer Do?

Find out what an environmental lawyer does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as an environmental lawyer.

Environmental lawyers help protect the environment by working to ensure that companies and individuals follow environmental laws. They may also work with clients to develop plans for projects that will have a minimal impact on the surrounding area.

Environmental law is an incredibly broad field, so there are many different types of jobs within this profession. Some environmental lawyers focus primarily on litigation—they represent people or organizations who believe they’ve been harmed by another party’s actions. Others may focus more on policy development or regulatory compliance.

Environmental Lawyer Job Duties

Environmental lawyers are responsible for a wide range of duties, including:

  • Drafting contracts and business agreements, including leases, licenses, purchase agreements, and partnership agreements
  • Communicating with clients, witnesses, experts, and other legal professionals regarding case details and strategies
  • Negotiating settlements on behalf of their clients in cases involving environmental damage claims
  • Representing clients in court trials, administrative hearings, and other legal proceedings
  • Reviewing scientific research related to cases in order to build strong legal arguments
  • Preparing legal documents such as complaints, motions, briefs, and subpoenas
  • Researching applicable laws and regulations to form a sound legal argument for each case
  • Reviewing cases to determine if they have grounds for appeal
  • Monitoring legislation and regulations to identify potential conflicts that may affect their cases

Environmental Lawyer Salary & Outlook

Environmental lawyers’ salaries vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the size and industry of the company they work for.

  • Median Annual Salary: $72,500 ($34.86/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $132,000 ($63.46/hour)

The employment of environmental lawyers is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

Environmental concerns have become more prominent in recent years, and this should lead to some growth in the demand for environmental lawyers. Organizations will continue to seek legal advice regarding compliance with environmental regulations and laws.

Related: In-Depth Environmental Lawyer Salary Guide

Environmental Lawyer Job Requirements

To become an environmental lawyer, one typically needs to have the following:

Education: Environmental lawyers need a bachelor’s degree in a field such as environmental science, biology, chemistry or ecology. Some environmental lawyers choose to earn a master’s degree in environmental law or environmental policy. Earning a law degree is the most common route for environmental lawyers, and they typically earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree.

Training & Experience: Environmental lawyers receive most of their training through internships and entry-level positions. During law school, students can complete an internship to gain practical experience in the field. Entry-level environmental lawyer positions provide training in areas such as environmental law, research and client relations.

Certifications & Licenses: Though legal certification is not required to become a lawyer, environmental lawyers are often required to have a license in their state. The most common certifications for environmental lawyers are environmental law and civil procedure. These can be earned through a combination of education and experience.

Environmental Lawyer Skills

Environmental lawyers need the following skills in order to be successful:

Technical skills: Environmental lawyers use technical skills to research and interpret legal documents, conduct research and develop strategies for their clients. Technical skills are also important for communicating with clients and other lawyers. For example, technical skills can help you explain complex legal language to your clients and help you draft contracts and other legal documents.

Communication skills: Environmental lawyers communicate with a variety of people, including clients, other lawyers, government officials and members of the public. Effective communication skills can help you convey your ideas and information to others, answer questions and resolve conflicts.

Problem-solving skills: Environmental lawyers often use their problem-solving skills to find solutions to environmental issues. They may research environmental laws and regulations to find solutions that comply with regulations. They may also use their problem-solving skills to find solutions to environmental issues that aren’t regulated by law.

Research skills: Environmental lawyers research topics and cases to support their arguments. They research laws, regulations and precedents to understand how to proceed with a case. They also research topics to understand the environmental impact of a project or company.

Business skills: Environmental lawyers often work with businesses to help them understand and comply with environmental regulations. Business skills like negotiation, persuasion and contract review can be useful to environmental lawyers.

Environmental Lawyer Work Environment

Environmental lawyers work in a variety of settings, including law firms, government agencies, and environmental organizations. They may also work as in-house counsel for companies. Many environmental lawyers travel frequently to attend conferences, meet with clients, and conduct research. Some lawyers may spend considerable time in the field, investigating environmental problems or monitoring compliance with environmental regulations. Many environmental lawyers work long hours, including evenings and weekends. The work can be stressful, and lawyers must be able to handle deadlines and pressure.

Environmental Lawyer Trends

Here are three trends influencing how environmental lawyers work. Environmental lawyers will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Growth of Environmental Litigation

The growth of environmental litigation is a trend that lawyers can capitalize on by becoming experts in this area.

As the world becomes more aware of the dangers posed by pollution and other environmental hazards, people are increasingly turning to lawyers for help. This has led to an increase in environmental litigation, which means that lawyers who specialize in this area will be in high demand.

Lawyers who are able to handle environmental litigation cases will be well-positioned to take advantage of this trend and earn a lucrative living. They should also expect to see an increased demand for their services in the years to come.

More Focus on Climate Change

As climate change becomes a more pressing issue, lawyers will need to focus on developing expertise in this area.

This means that lawyers will need to be familiar with the latest developments in climate change law, as well as the best ways to address the challenges that it presents. In addition, lawyers will need to be able to communicate effectively with clients about the risks associated with climate change and how they can be mitigated.

Greater Attention to Water Law

Water law is a rapidly growing field, as the world’s population continues to grow and become more urbanized. As a result, there is an increasing demand for professionals who are knowledgeable about water law.

Environmental lawyers are in a unique position to capitalize on this trend, as they are already familiar with the legal issues surrounding water use and conservation. By expanding their knowledge base to include water law, they can become even more valuable to their clients.

How to Become an Environmental Lawyer

A career as an environmental lawyer can be both rewarding and challenging. It’s important to consider the different paths you can take, such as working for a non-profit organization or a government agency, or starting your own private practice.

No matter which path you choose, it’s essential to stay up-to-date on environmental law developments. You can do this by reading journals and newsletters, attending conferences and workshops, and networking with other professionals in the field.

Related: How to Write an Environmental Lawyer Resume

Advancement Prospects

After completing law school and being admitted to the bar, lawyers generally must complete a period of on-the-job training under the supervision of an experienced lawyer. This is typically done by working as an associate in a law firm. After several years, some lawyers are promoted to partnership in their firm, meaning they become owners of the firm.

In order to advance their career, lawyers need to develop strong research and writing skills. They should also be able to work well with others and be good at problem solving. Those who are interested in management may want to become law firm partners or move into corporate legal departments. Some lawyers open their own private practices.

Environmental lawyers may also advance their careers by working in the public sector. They may become prosecutors or work for environmental protection agencies. Some may become judges.

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