How To Become an Environment Lawyer in 6 Steps
If you are passionate about the environment and are interested in law and public policy, you may consider becoming an environmental lawyer. Environmental lawyers play a significant role in developing environmental policy to create awareness on various environmental issues. In order to become an environmental lawyer, there are necessary requirements and qualifications you need before representing clients in court cases on environmental topics such as renewable energy or water pollution.
In this article, we explain what an environmental lawyer is, what environmental lawyers do, how to become one and a salary and job outlook for the position.
What is an environmental lawyer?
An environmental lawyer is a professional who provides legal guidance to their clients about various environmental topics and issues, such as climate change, poor air and water quality, sustainability and waste management. Environmental lawyers provide counsel to their clients in court by compiling evidence and suggesting strategies to save energy. They also advocate for their clients by adhering to environmental laws and regulations themselves, modeling how to effectively protect the environment. In addition to providing support to clients during the legal process, environmental lawyers, and the outcomes of their court cases, are critical in shaping future environmental law and policy.
What does an environmental lawyer do?
An environmental lawyer has a variety of responsibilities, such as:
Drafting legal documents and correspondence
Acquiring evidence for the court through research and interviews
Presenting evidence in court cases regarding environmental issues
Providing legal guidance, advice and counsel to clients
Researching environmental issues and legal developments
Teaching students in environmental law classes
Working with government agencies to improve environmental policy, law and regulations
Work environment for an environmental lawyer
Environmental lawyers typically work within law firms, private practices or government agencies. They may work in office environments to collaborate with other environmental lawyers and work alongside legal assistants and paralegals to prepare for cases. Environmental lawyers also spend much of their time in court when representing their clients. Following their years of professional experience, some environmental lawyers later decide to work in academia to teach classes about environmental law and policy.
It's common for environmental attorneys to work more than 40 hours per week, and they may work beyond traditional work hours. While their schedule typically varies depending on their workload, environmental lawyers may work weekends, late hours, early mornings and on holidays.
How to become an environmental lawyer
Consider following these steps to become an environmental lawyer:
1. Pursue an undergraduate degree
The first step to becoming an environmental lawyer is to earn an undergraduate degree. While there is not a specific major that's required to become an environmental lawyer, pursuing majors such as political science, public policy or environmental studies are all excellent options. It's common for undergraduate programs to have pre-determined class requirements. However, if your class schedule allows, consider taking elective courses that interest you to further your understanding of specific topics pertaining to environmental law, like environmental impacts and sustainability methods.
2. Prepare, study for and pass the LSAT
Using the knowledge you've gathered, you can prepare to take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), which students typically take while they're completing their junior year of school. There is usually a maximum number of times you can take the LSAT throughout the year, and it's a large deciding factor for a law school admissions team, so it's important to adequately study for the exam and feel comfortable with the concepts on the test.
3. Research schools and apply to programs
After completing your undergraduate degree, you likely have a better understanding of what specifically interests you about environmental law. Research universities and colleges and their specific programs to find a place that aligns with your professional goals and allows you the opportunity to study environmental law in some capacity. You may also want to review the course offerings to ensure you're able to take the classes that interest you the most and are most relevant to your chosen field.
4. Graduate with your Juris Doctor
The Juris Doctor, or JD, is a professional degree you can earn following graduation with your bachelor's degree. While some large universities may offer a JD program, many attorneys attend law school following graduation from a more traditional university. During your JD program, you're likely eligible to take the bar exam, but it's common for students to take the bar exam after they graduate with this distinction.
Related: What Is a Juris Doctor Degree?
5. Take the bar exam
In order to become a lawyer, you must take the bar exam in the state where you intend on practicing. This is because there are some states that have state-specific bar exams, while others require that the test taker complete a state-specific essay portion of the exam. No matter which state you're taking the exam in, your exam will likely cover topics that test your knowledge of law school concepts as well as your critical thinking and analytical abilities.
6. Apply for positions
One of the final steps to becoming an environmental lawyer is simply to apply for positions. Even if you don't have any experience in law, you can write a resume that highlights your unique attributes and commitment to the field. Consider including the skills that are important in law, including legal drafting, research, negotiation, written and oral communication, time management, legal procedure and problem solving.
You can also write a larger education section to show your knowledge of law. This section can include your grade point average (GPA), relevant coursework, degree name and any distinctions you earned or projects you completed as a student.
Salary and job outlook for environmental lawyers
While there isn't a salary available specifically for an environmental lawyer, attorneys in the United States report making an average of $95,196 per year, although this can vary depending on your experience and the state where you practice.
The job outlook for attorneys is expected to grow by 4% through 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is the average growth for all occupations.
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