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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?

If you would like to become an environmental lawyer, you have got these options. One option is to study LLB undergraduate law degree and learn about all law and legal system areas, all beneficial to get into environmental law. The second option is to complete a non-law degree followed by a conversion course.

Then you need to take the Solicitor Qualifying Examination (SQE), followed by two years of Qualifying Work Experience.

Alternatively, you can study LLM Environmental Law and LLM Environmental Law online - a postgraduate degree for law and non-law graduates who want to gain a Master’s qualification in environmental law.

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.