Practice Areas

Environmental Law

Introduction

Environmental law is an up-and-coming area of law in an age of concern over the ‘footprint’ humans are leaving on our planet: and covers such diverse areas 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 – ultimately – defending them if litigation ensues.

Beyond the corporate world, a very limited (but popular) number of opportunities exist in the area of ‘NGOs’ (non-governmental organisations) such as The Friends of the Earth and the Environmental Law Foundation (ELF).

Alternatively, there are further opportunities in both Government (for example, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or ‘DEFRA’): regulatory bodies such as the Environment Agency; and in Local Government in the form of Local Authorities.

Depending on your area, therefore, 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 such seemingly diverse areas as corporate and criminal, finance and property, so do look at those practice areas as well. Of course, with many directives issuing from Brussels, EU law also has a huge impact on this area.  

What does this type of lawyer do?

The UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) has an excellent website with a whole section aimed at students, including a downloadable student handbook containing information on how to get into a career in environmental law (see http://www.ukela.org).

In general terms however, if you are acting for corporate clients, your activities are likely to include giving advice on the possible environmental ramifications of pursuing particular courses of action relating to corporate activities (concerning such things as waste, pollution, health and safety, and carbon emissions for example). If involved in litigation, be aware that cases may be very high profile, involve enormous sums of money, and may have devastating ramifications for your client, especially as cases may be pursued through the criminal as well as through the civil courts.

If you are working for Government, your responsibilities would lie in drafting legislation, advising, and litigation; and for Local Government you would be involved in acting for your client (the Local Authority) with regard to its responsibilities under its remit in an advisory, regulatory, and litigious capacity.

If you are in the regulatory field, of working for the Environment Agency, you would be responsible for drafting legislation, regulation, and prosecution. 

What skills are required?

This is a very complex and fast-changing area of the law. You therefore need to have excellent academics as well as a genuine interest in order to be able to ‘keep up’ with the demands of the legislation.

In a relatively new area of law, where legal precedent may be thin on the ground, you will need to be comfortable with making your own sound judgement-calls.

Flowing on from good judgement is the need for a high degree of pragmatism and commercial awareness: you will need to understand your clients business’s and ensure in order to properly tailor your advice.

You will also need to be able to cope with large amounts of complex information: given the nature of the work, a background in science or data analysis can be very useful. 

Current issues

There are numerous current initiatives which you need to be aware of including legislation connected to:

  • Corporate Social Responsibility: with ever increasing, and ever more complex legislation, companies and organisations require advice from environmental law specialists on their liabilities, how to minimise their risks, insurance and so on
  • Climate change: including the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme, which places a limit on the amount of emissions a company can produce
  • Energy: concerns over sources of energy, and the focus on renewable sources; and the controversy over 'fracking' and nuclear

Keep abreast of the environmental scene by looking at the websites listed below on a regular basis. 

More information

The UK Environmental Law Association has an excellent website with a whole section aimed at students, including a downloadable student handbook containing information on how to get into a career in environmental law – see:

The not-for-profit organisation Ibex Earth, which looks at new ways for businesses and individuals to address their impact on the environment, also has an extremely good section for students, including details of internships, work experience and voluntary opportunities

For more information on environmental law:

Join associations as a student member and keep in touch with events and information:

The student guides to the legal profession also have useful information on working in environmental law. Look at: