Environmental Lawyer Job Description


When people think of environmental law, they often reference movies about hard-working attorneys fighting against big business to save the Earth. While high profile cases are a professional possibility, most environmental attorneys work tirelessly on cases that may never attract the attention of the media or Hollywood. These lawyers work in a variety of settings, including government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Even big businesses employ the services of environmental attorneys.

Show Your Skills

  • Environmental law requires skill in research and analysis. In this position, you review environmental regulations on a daily basis. You must analyze statutes such as the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. Communication skills are necessary to share your findings with supervisors and other workers within the organization. If working within a government setting, you may also draft laws or make changes to existing ones. You don't have to be an expert, but most environmental issues require a general understanding of science or technology.

Government Path

  • The Environmental Protection Agency is the leading government employer of environmental lawyers. Through the creation of regulations and rules, the EPA ensures that companies are not harming the environment. The agency employs attorneys to write legislation and investigate companies that are not in compliance. In this position, you also litigate criminal enforcement cases. EPA attorneys research and advise on a variety of international environmental issues as well, including concerns over Japanese whaling. Fracking, which is a type of oil drilling, is another environmental issue that is attracting attention. Other government agencies that routinely employ environmental lawyers include the USDA Forest Service, as well as the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Private Path

  • Various nongovernmental agencies also work to protect the environment. Some, like the Sierra Club, are nonprofits that hire environmental lawyers to review government regulations and investigate offending businesses. These positions offer an opportunity to address specific environmental problems on behalf of individuals who may not otherwise have a voice. Private businesses, like energy and manufacturing corporations, also employ environmental attorneys. In these positions, lawyers review environmental policies and ensure that the company is in compliance. If the government finds the business in violation, the environmental lawyer may appeal the decision and appear in court to defend the company against government assessed penalties.

Standing Out

  • Make your resume stand out from the crowd by strengthening your environmental law knowledge. Write an article about a relevant environmental issue. Submit it to legal journals and reference the publication on your resume. Internships are also effective tools for gaining employment. The EPA, along with many private agencies, offer paid and unpaid opportunities.

Education and Earnings

  • The road to career in environmental law is paved with at least seven years of education. In addition to an undergraduate degree, you must also obtain a law degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the average salary of lawyers in general at $113,530 per year. The outlook for the profession is average, with an expected job growth of 10 percent between 2012 and 2022. Environmental law is specifically expected to grow because of growing concerns about sustainability and climate change.

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