Green Jobs in Law - dummies

By Carol L. McClelland

Do you want to fight the good fight for the environment? The legal field is rich with opportunity for a green job-seeker. Lawyers and legal experts combine their knowledge of the law and scientific concepts of conservation, sustainability, and ecology to enforce and enhance laws that protect the environment from negative human and industrial impacts. If this combination fits your passions, you may want to look here when making an eco-conscious career transition.

Attorneys practicing in this specialty may work in environmental agencies, interest groups, private and public corporations, nonprofit organizations, law firms, and governmental agencies at the local, state, federal, and international levels. What they do during their work day is not substantially different from what other attorneys do.

Depending on their setting they may

  • Develop, analyze, and draft laws, regulations, briefs, contracts, and legal pleadings.

  • Settle disputes through negotiation, mediations, and litigation.

  • Conduct research into case law, interview, and take depositions.

  • Prepare licenses, permits, applications, and patents.

  • Monitor compliance with regulations.

A section of the American Bar Association is devoted to lawyers who practice in this area. They divide the specialization into three main topics:

  • Environmental law addresses a wide range of environmental topics, from air quality and waste management to climate change and endangered species.

  • Energy law grapples with an array of energy sources, from traditional oil and gas and hydropower to renewable energy, carbon, and restructuring the electric grid.

  • Natural resources law focuses on issues associated with the Earth’s resources, such as water, forests, marine areas, and public lands.

A number of the laws that have governed the environment — including the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Superfund — were enacted in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, with the Obama administration in place, more legislation that impacts the environment and the energy industry is likely to be enacted at the federal, state, and local levels. (For example, In May 2009 the EPA proposed a plan to increase the use of renewable energy as required by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.)

As businesses, developers, local agencies, venture capitalists, and other entities face these new laws, they are going to need guidance to understand what’s expected of them and to work through any legal issues that arise. Legal experts expect growth in the field throughout the country, in private practice, nonprofit agencies, businesses, and government agencies. Developments in the green economy will lead to new specialties in the legal field. Some of these may be:

  • Carbon trading is a topic that sits on the horizon as we await new legislation to define how this system will work. As more details are known, attorneys will undoubtedly discover that their services are in demand.

  • Modernizing the electric grid and transmission system is bound to raise issues about property rights, partnerships, security, and other issues we have yet to define.

  • Cleantech law is another specialty that is poised to grow. At one level, this specialty focuses on traditional legal activities associated with patent law, intellectual property, and licensing. The cutting edge aspect of this specialty is the challenge of guiding cleantech inventions from concept to commercial venture. Given that the cleantech segment is emerging in a number of different directions, everything about this legal specialization is likely to be evolving for some time.

If you’d like to pursue a green job in the legal field, you have quite a few possibilities, including the following

  • Attorney: Litigation attorney, county counsel, in-house attorney, corporate attorney, environmental attorney, managing counsel, energy regulatory counsel, senior counsel, energy/infrastructure attorney

  • Subject matter expert: Land use law analyst, water rights specialist, environmental protection specialist, legislative analyst, environmental legal consultant, litigation associate, environmental and energy associate

  • Support: Paralegal, litigation paralegal, legal secretary, litigation support, administrator, litigation secretary