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Author Topic: Good Schools for Environmental Law  (Read 5636 times)

Aspiring Lawyer

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Good Schools for Environmental Law
« on: October 17, 2008, 01:58:05 PM »
I am interested in environmental law and have found that US News ranks Vermont highly (i.e. 1 or 2) with regard to this specialty, yet the school is ranked overall in the tier 3.  Basically, that does not appeal to me as I would be concerned by job prospects coming from a tier 3 school even though it is supposedly regarded highly in the environmental law area.  So, how does USNWR rank schools by specialty areas?  What are some highly ranked tier 1/2 schools that have good environmental law programs?  Is it possible Vermont is underrated since it has a dual JD/MA with Yale?  All responses would greatly be appreciated. 

bamf

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Re: Good Schools for Environmental Law
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2008, 02:50:57 PM »
if you can go to a T1 school, in the area you want to work, go there ... once you get into a few, start to look at their environmental programs.  ultimately your ability to get into (public) environmental law, like any area and especially any area of national policy-oriented public interest/ government work, will depend on your school and grades.  ultimately i would look to the schools you can get into based on your numbers, and then look through their course offerings and see if they have an environmental journal or clinic.

that being said, i have come across some excellent lawyers and professors in the environmental field that went to the lower-ranked schools that are big in e law (VT, Lewis and Clark, Pace, etc.).  a lot of it is alumni base (these schools may or may not have larger alumni presence in this practice area than some higher ranked schools) and location (schools in more rural geographic areas have more land use and environmental-related work to be done).  but when it comes to these specialty rankings, aren't they just based on surveys of professors?  a lot of professors will rank these programs higher than employment stats dictate because places like VT or Pace have a major presence in the academic realm of e law ... they spend money on that area of law, hire better profs and thus play a big part in the academic discourse.  the fact will remain, though, that if you go to a top school that isn't as well  known specifically for e law you will probably still have an easier time getting the job you want.

i'm a 2L on the environmental journal at BC, so pm me if you have any questions
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observationalist

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Re: Good Schools for Environmental Law
« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2008, 03:43:45 PM »
The emergence of the US News law "concentrations" have led to the development of specialties at T3/T4 schools that would not otherwise ever be highly-ranked by US News. (Although Vermont does legitimately have a good environmental law program.) They pump money into hiring top professors and developing a program in that practice area, but the school itself still doesn't have the cache for job hunting.  Unfortunately for those schools, there's no major in law school.  This is why I'd suggest you go to the best school that you can.

Three initial things to consider:
1) By the time you are applying for 1L jobs, you will have only taken 3-4 classes.
2) By the time you are applying for 2L summer jobs, you will only have taken the standard first-year curriculum and the most you can demonstrate an interest curriculum-wise is in the courses you are enrolled in for fall of 2L on your transcript.
3) With the exception of hard-IP, firms generally take you at your word that you are interested in a practice area if you can have an intelligent conversation about it, regardless of the classes you are taking fall of 2L year.

I'd look for schools that have highly-ranked environmental journals and look for enviro clinics if that's what you want. Here are ways you can demonstrate your interest in environmental law, no matter what school you go to:
1) Join an environmental law journal.  (At some schools you can do both this and the main journal.)
2) Do an environmental clinic.
3) Write a note on an emerging topic in environmental law.
4) Participate in national environmental law competitions (negotiations, moot court, writing competitions, etc.)
5) Develop a seminar, ad hoc, or independent study on an environmental law topic.
6) Do a RA gig with an environmental law professor.
7) Join the enviro law section with the state lawyers' association and go to environmental law conferences.

Doing a few of those things above will help you stand out as someone interested in environmental law at a T1 OCI.  I imagine it would be much more difficult to stand out as interested in environmental law at a T3 OCI where nearly everyone is interested in environmental law.

And, FWIW, I'm likely going into environmental law at a top firm having done nothing in law school, transcript or resume-wise, related to environmental law.

Agree with those 7 points... I've done everything except 2) and 3) as a 2L at Vanderbilt, and I'm also interning at a great non-profit here in town which you should look into.  Certain cities have a more environmental bent and can afford you with a greater variety of environmental work while you're in school. 

I also agree that you should apply to the top schools based on your numbers in addition to Vermont, Pace and Lewis & Clark.  Not that I'm not really pumped about the enviro program at Vandy, but after spending time in Pace's enviro clinic this summer (and working with a lot of Pace/Vermont grads) I realized I should've at least applied there to see what sort of scholarships they might've offered.  I did notice my 1L experience here in Nashville was far less stressful and competitive than it was for my fellow Pace friends... only the very top students in their class are invited into the clinic and I think they said around a 1/4 of the 1L class actually dropped out after first semester.  If you're looking at their program I would strongly recommend contacting students and getting a first-hand account of how they like it.  The attorneys and interns I worked with all loved it, but they also represent the top of their class, so their views as filtered through my comments probably aren't doing the school justice.

You should also feel free to contact the directors of environmental law programs at schools once you get your acceptances.  Our director is very interested in talking with prospective students, particularly as he looks to grow the program and give us even more opportunities than we already have. Michigan just hired a top-level enviro lawyer to direct their new enviro law and policy program, so if you're applying there it might help to do some research and mention that in your essay.  Stating an interest in your applications may help but it claiming a general interest in 'Environmental Law' is now becoming the new 'International Law' for signaling to adcomms that you really don't know what you want to do.

Also, Tulane, Columbia, GULC, and UT for energy all have reputable programs.  Someone with a west-coast bent will hopefully post their schools.  G'luck... it's a growing field and it looks like all of us with an interest are still doing well with getting jobs this summer... my gpa is nothing remarkable, but my focused interest definitely helped get me into my top firm choice for the summer.

BAMF, I know someone in your class who's doing environmental (I'm from Boston).  His Facebook pic currently has him holding up a skull of what looks like a stag, and I think he worked at MassDEP last summer.  If you know him tell him I said hey... he'll probably know who I am.
Vanderbilt University Law School Class of '10

Matthies

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Re: Good Schools for Environmental Law
« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2008, 04:01:56 PM »
I, astonishingly, agree with everything else in this post. I will say that if you want to work at the local level than going to a regional school should not have much effect on find envrio jobs in that region. At least it has not for me. Iíve focused all my schooling on envrio law, including journal work and an LLM/MLS in natural resource law. I will say it can be more difficult to find a job if your only looking for enrivro law, rather than looking for anything and envrio would be a bonus. Youíre just more limited if what you school offers OCI wise that is also envrio related, if thatís not a lot you need to make other things happen on your own. Iíve found that making contacts in the environmental law community where you go to school has pretty much negated this issue for me personally, even with a much higher ranked school with an enviro focus 45 mins north of me, its been a non issue for me to land stuff thorough people I know over students from that school. Its definitely a field where knowing people helps a lot
*In clinical studies, Matthies was well tolerated, but women who are pregnant, nursing or might become pregnant should not take or handle Matthies due to a rare, but serious side effect called him having to make child support payments.

Clayton

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Re: Good Schools for Environmental Law
« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2008, 08:16:42 PM »
University of Oregon has a good program, plus unlike Vermont if you decide that enviro law isn't for you, you aren't totally screwed.

Also the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference is held at the UO Law school, it is student driven and is one of the largest conferences of its kind.

http://www.pielc.org/pages/about.html

Terrible Ivan

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Re: Good Schools for Environmental Law
« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2008, 09:01:12 PM »
Something to consider that hasn't been addresses is what you mean by environmental law. The programs you will get at Vt and Lewis and Clark are much more geared for public sector, and, if I can stereotype only slightly, more of a conservative bent.

If you are interested in the flavor of environmental law practiced by most BIGLAW firms, then a JD from one of the smaller specialty law schools will not go as far, especially if the hiring partners sense that you aren't a good fit for the type of industrial environmental compliance or transactional/development work most firms do.

If you want to do public sector or private conservation legal work, then a less expensive three years at a tier 3 school with an environmental specialty is a better choice than t1 debt. But if firm work is for you, the specialty programs provide less.

And my quick personal experience after working at an environmental boutique: almost no matter what, your first job will do the real environmental training, regardless of your JD program. At most, you'll have a few months' head start. If you're going to become a water lawyer or an air lawyer, your time in law school will only give you the surface; depth only comes on the job.

Ivan

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Re: Good Schools for Environmental Law
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2008, 02:48:22 PM »
Something to consider that hasn't been addresses is what you mean by environmental law. The programs you will get at Vt and Lewis and Clark are much more geared for public sector, and, if I can stereotype only slightly, more of a conservative bent.

If you are interested in the flavor of environmental law practiced by most BIGLAW firms, then a JD from one of the smaller specialty law schools will not go as far, especially if the hiring partners sense that you aren't a good fit for the type of industrial environmental compliance or transactional/development work most firms do.

If you want to do public sector or private conservation legal work, then a less expensive three years at a tier 3 school with an environmental specialty is a better choice than t1 debt. But if firm work is for you, the specialty programs provide less.

And my quick personal experience after working at an environmental boutique: almost no matter what, your first job will do the real environmental training, regardless of your JD program. At most, you'll have a few months' head start. If you're going to become a water lawyer or an air lawyer, your time in law school will only give you the surface; depth only comes on the job.

Ivan


This is very good advice, so long as you recognize your 1L summer job can count as your first real training.  Some schools list the places students have interned at, and you can definitely talk to other current students besides those of us on these boards to ask about what sort of work they did.  Also, if you're interested in water law the Waterkeeper Alliance is working on a mapping project to identify law schools within different watersheds to pair up free legal assistance with Keepers in their area... it might even be worth contacting general counsels and ask if they take legal interns from X law school.  I was up in NY last summer but have since been in talks with Riverkeepers in the southeast about hiring 1Ls, and the responses so far have been very positive.  Other groups like Earthjustice, NRDC etc are fairly competitive but also very good for developing legal skills, particularly if you're looking to do litigation. (Earthjustice's DC office does almost exclusive lit work).

Clinical experience is also huge if you can get it, but just because most clinical clients are public interest orgs doesn't mean all the students are leaning that way in their careers.  Any experience is good experience, and firms recognize that.  In interviewing with the firm I'm working at next summer I asked a partner whether they thought I should explain away my summer experience up at Pace and they said absolutely not. Paraphrased quote was "We've got people here who went through Tulane's clinic, so you shouldn't worry about your experience raising any red flags here. We want students that show a commitment to developing an environmental practice, and anything you can talk about is going to help drive that point home."

And if you're really thinking you want to work in the public sector, keep in mind a lot of groups will not hire straight out of law school and prefer people who have already received on-the-job training.  You'll find a lot of crossover between the private/public sectors, government and academia when you start checking out bios.  There are benefits of going to a school that will give you options in all areas, notably the greater flexibility of finding environmental work without having to be in the top of your class gpa-wise.
Vanderbilt University Law School Class of '10

observationalist

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Re: Good Schools for Environmental Law
« Reply #7 on: October 19, 2008, 01:48:58 PM »
One thing to remember in environmental law is that if you want to go straight to private firm, you really need to watch which organizations feature prominently on your resume.  Firms are on the watch for the crunchy granolas who can't handle working for their clients.

The bolded is misleading in this context, but I agree with the second statement. Making the distinction between private practice and crunchiness is too black-and-white from what I've seen... there's a great deal of crossover in this area of the law. If you can find environmental work that will expose you to issues you'd face in representing private clients (like NEPA stuff, permitting, regulatory analysis, etc.), it's going to help.  Whether an interviewer views you as the crunchy type is something that will come through in an interview... determining your fitness for representing client interests instead of your own is not based on where you've worked before.  Someone who worked for Earthjustice their 1L summer and expresses a sincere interest in a firm with a strong environmental practice stands a better shot than someone with no enviro aspect to their resume... and the work you'll do as a 1L with EJ will be more substantial than what you'd do interning at Firestone.  I understand Yellow disagrees with me based on their own experience, but a law school applicant who already knows they want to explore environmental law before going to law school should really focus on tailoring their resume to that end.  If anything, the harder sell in getting a job is convincing a public interest org to hire you without having a crunchy side, not in convincing a firm you want to pursue the normal path and go into private practice.

If you really want private firm work in environmental law (and at this point the OP doesn't seem to exist, so this goes for anyone else reading the thread), my best advice is that you choose a program with enough resources to give you a solid educational base and also provide you with summer/semester work that'll signal your interest and ability in learning all the complexities you'd be faced with (whether it's litigation, transactional, regulatory, or a mix).
Vanderbilt University Law School Class of '10

Matthies

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Re: Good Schools for Environmental Law
« Reply #8 on: October 19, 2008, 02:02:23 PM »
One thing to remember in environmental law is that if you want to go straight to private firm, you really need to watch which organizations feature prominently on your resume.  Firms are on the watch for the crunchy granolas who can't handle working for their clients.

I understand Yellow disagrees with me based on their own experience, but a law school applicant who already knows they want to explore environmental law before going to law school should really focus on tailoring their resume to that end.  If anything, the harder sell in getting a job is convincing a public interest org to hire you without having a crunchy side, not in convincing a firm you want to pursue the normal path and go into private practice.

If you really want private firm work in environmental law (and at this point the OP doesn't seem to exist, so this goes for anyone else reading the thread), my best advice is that you choose a program with enough resources to give you a solid educational base and also provide you with summer/semester work that'll signal your interest and ability in learning all the complexities you'd be faced with (whether it's litigation, transactional, regulatory, or a mix).

I really, really agree with this. If your sure you want to do environmental or natural resources law (they are different) and that wonít change you should focus your resume, outside activities, internships and networking on envrio stuff from day one. Itís a very different mindset for finding a job than if you willing to take any job, but envrio would be cool. Focusing your job search requires focusing your resume. I do however disagree that you will only learn about enrvro stuff only on the job, if you school offers clinics, externships, specialty classes taught by adjuncts and or journal/seminar work its easy to get an advanced knowledge in a specific area if you do that as well as your summer work. It in this very limited area that I think specialty rankings are usefull, it will give you an idea of how braod your schools program will be or not. Also publishing regularly as a student can show you have an advanced understanding of an issue. Iíve had a few lawyers contact me for more info/help based on articles Iíve published on a very specific water law issue.
*In clinical studies, Matthies was well tolerated, but women who are pregnant, nursing or might become pregnant should not take or handle Matthies due to a rare, but serious side effect called him having to make child support payments.

Matthies

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Re: Good Schools for Environmental Law
« Reply #9 on: October 19, 2008, 03:02:11 PM »
I interned at one crunchy granola place in UG for one semester freshman year and left it on my resume to demonstrate my interest in environmental law.  I spent all of the interviewing season basically trying to explain that I knew I'd be working for the bad guy and was OK with selling out.  Am pretty sure I'd been better off having nothing on my resume for enviro law than having that organization on there.  In one interview, I had a lawyer tell me that they usually don't interview people with places like that on the resume because they'd have a hard time working for the clients/become easily disillusioned.  So you may not even get the chance to explain it. 


You should have just been honest with them and said, look Iím in it for the money. If you want to pay me to save the seals I will, but if you pay me NYC market rate Iíll club the seals myself, skin them and make jackets for your kids.   
*In clinical studies, Matthies was well tolerated, but women who are pregnant, nursing or might become pregnant should not take or handle Matthies due to a rare, but serious side effect called him having to make child support payments.