Environmental Lawyer

Dec 1, 1999
Outside Magazine


The Work: Whether your employer is the Justice Department, a polluter in need of defense, or a nonprofit organization, you'll spend the bulk of your time poring over case documents—investigation reports, Forest Service logging proposals, and scientific materials—doing pretrial administration work, or arguing to a jury that a man accused of smuggling 200 exotic parrots across international borders should go to jail. Or get lucky like Sierra Club attorney Mark Massara, who logs billable hours on the beach building support for coastal preservation. 

Time Outside: 10—20 percent at most. You commune with paper more than with nature, though the occasional investigative foray to inspect a clear-cut or the scene of a grizzly bear kill isn't out of the question. 

Payback: $20,000 in the public sector, up to $250,000 for private attorneys working on high-profile litigation. Of course, there are those who take a virtual vow of poverty for the Earth. "If I earned more, I'd consume more," says Marty Bergoffen, an attorney for the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, who banked a measly $10,000 last year. "And that only leads to more environmental degradation." (We didn't pay him to say that.) 

Prerequisites: Vermont Law School (888-277-5985; www.vermontlaw.edu) and the University of Oregon's School of Law (541-346-3846; http://www.law.uoregon.edu) are choice trolling grounds for talent scouts from private firms and NGOs. Along with your law diploma, you'll need a passing score on your state bar exam and—to land the best jobs—a B.S. in ecology or environmental science. 

Networking: Bring a stack of résumés to the University of Oregon Land-Air-Water Association's annual environmental law conference in Eugene in March. 

Peon to Pro: Seven years from exam-weary law school grad to partner or head counsel. 

Drudge Factor: 80- to 90-hour workweeks during trials. And if you work for a private firm, you don't always represent the good guys.

Outlook: Promising. Tightening environmental regulations mean plenty of opportunity for prosecution and defense. Eighty percent of current openings are in corporate law.


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