Environmental law may have been invisible on the legal radar a few years ago; however, today it is very much in the limelight as a growing, lucrative and incredibly interesting area of law. The subject covers both contentious and non-contentious practice and involves matters such as: health and safety, resource contamination, dumping of waste, recycling of material, disaster management, climate change and alternative energy resources.
What does environmental law involve?
The enactment of the Environmental Protection Act in 1990 marked the UK’s first step towards a growing focus on environmental law. Still considered a niche practice area, it is very difficult to find practices that focus purely on environmental law. In most firms, lawyers specialising in environmental issues are usually seconded from property and construction or project finance departments.
Solicitors who are interested in private practice and want to specialize in environmental law will usually work in-house or as an external consultant to other companies. The completion of due diligence in large corporate, property and project deals is an important part of these job roles. Due diligence activity can include anything from checking on waste disposal methods and illegal dumping, to scoping out past histories of environmental protection and wildlife conservation.
Other tasks include: providing necessary advice to clients on compliance with regulatory requirements; pre-empting investigations by authorities; and defending clients against claims on pollution, conservation methods, emissions, criminal negligence and general health and safety.
Many claims involve considerable potential damage to reputation and huge pecuniary losses by way of penalties and compensation. Consequently, environmental lawyers play a critical role in these sensitive matters and are needed throughout the entire process.
You might be assigned work that relates to matters such as pollution levels, emission control, planning and infrastructure needs versus environmental concerns, alternate and renewable energy resources, maintenance of health and sanitation, and clean water supply. Contentious work might involve prosecuting organisations that have flouted environmental regulations or committed environmental crimes.
If you are interested in pursuing a career in environmental law, opportunities are available to work in-house for big corporations and NGOs. If you pursue an environmental law career in the public law domain, you could be working for government authorities, such as the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, or regulatory agencies such as the Environment Agency.
What makes a good environmental lawyer?
The desirable qualities for an environment lawyer are flexibility, an ability to multitask, an excellent academic background, strong reasoning and analytical skills, and a keen awareness of the commercial process.
Reasonable working hours and interesting prospects for progression are available. You will get the chance to participate in a huge range of work in this field. This will require you to be up-to-date with corporate and transactional law, public health and safety, financial resourcefulness and current industrial, business and regulatory norms.
A lot of the technology and resources used in environmental law today are very cutting-edge, so it definitely helps if you’ve got a fair bit of scientific knowledge and you are familiar with environmental jargon and terminology.