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legal practice areas

Environmental Law

Environmental law is an up-and-coming area of law in an age of concern over the ‘footprint’ humans are leaving on our planet. It covers diverse areas such as climate control, sources of energy, pollution and Corporate Social Responsibility.

As an environmental lawyer, most opportunities are in the corporate area of advising large organisations and businesses as to their risks, responsibilities, regulatory concerns, damage limitation and defending them if litigation ensues. Beyond the corporate world, a very limited (but popular) number of opportunities exist in the area of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as The Friends of the Earth.

Alternatively, there are further opportunities in both Government (for example, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs known as DEFRA), the regulatory bodies such as the Environment Agency and in Local Government.

Depending on your area, clients can vary from large corporate entities to individuals, charities to government, and the areas of law involved can be just as varied. They can include diverse areas such as corporate, criminal, finance and property, so look at those practice areas as well. With many directives issuing from Brussels, EU law has a huge impact on this area.

What does an environmental lawyer do?

When acting for corporate clients, environmental lawyers give advice on the possible environmental consequences of pursuing particular corporate activities. These results could include health and safety implications or increased pollution and carbon emissions for example.

Litigation cases can be very high profile, involve enormous sums of money and may have devastating ramifications for a client, as cases may be pursued through both the criminal and civil courts.

Working for the government sees lawyers advising and drafting legislation and litigation. Whilst working with local government sees lawyers acting for a particular client in an advisory, regulator and litigious capacity.

Those who work for the Environmental Agency in the regulatory field, are responsible for drafting legislation, regulation and prosecution.

What skills are required?

This complex, fast-changing area of the law requires excellent academic results and a genuine interest in the area in order to keep up with the demands of the legislation. Due to this practice area being relatively new, legal precedent may be lacking so lawyers need to be comfortable making their own judgement calls.

A background in science or data analysis could be beneficial as there is large amounts of complex information to deal with. In order to properly tailor advice, a high degree of pragmatism and commercial awareness is required to understand a client’s business.

You need to act as both advisors and legal advocates in protecting natural resources and the environment.

Strong communication skills are essential as you will need to explain and illustrate how the environmental event in question might influence the earth, humans or animal populations. 

How to get into environmental law?

To work as a solicitor, you can either take the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), or if you are eligible, you can study the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

If you qualify through the SQE, you will also need to complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). To prepare for the SQE, we recommend studying one of our SQE courses, which have been designed to give you the knowledge and skills for a successful career as a solicitor.

If you’re eligible to study the LPC, you will need to get a two-year training contract with a law firm. To find out what route is right for you, see our Becoming a Solicitor page.

Once you complete your two-year training contract or QWE, you can apply to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to be admitted as a solicitor.

To become a barrister, you will need to have completed an undergraduate law degree, or if you are a non-law graduate, a conversion course, before completing the Bar Practice Course (BPC). You will then need to secure pupillage.

You can also study a Master of Law (LLM) in Environmental Law or an LLM in International Energy Law to give you the knowledge and skills to move into this sector.

What are the different types of environmental law?

There are many environmental laws in the UK, covering everything from pollution, protecting natural resources, climate change, wildlife and many more.

Here is a list of the most important environmental laws:

  • Pollution
  • Wildlife
  • Conservation
  • Climate Change

Useful links

The UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) – Includes a section aimed at students and has a downloadable student handbook containing information on how to get into a career in environmental law.

Ibex Earth – A not-for-profit organisation that looks at new ways for businesses and individuals to address their impact on the environment. Their ‘Student’ section includes information on internships, work experience and voluntary opportunities.

Environment Law – Easy to read guide to environmental law.

Ends Report – Environmental intelligence for professionals.

The Environmental Law Foundation – Organises lectures and produces regular newsletters.

The following student guides include information on working in environmental law: LawCareers.net, Chambers and Partners Student Guide and Target Law.