Oil spills, deforestation and air pollution. Each of these environmental
problems has sparked an array of laws and regulations. Someone has to write
and interpret those laws. Environmental lawyers are the experts on environmental
legislation, and these days their services are in great demand.
These lawyers may work for three interests in the environment: public,
corporate and government. Those who work for the public usually work in either
legal reform or litigation.
In reform work, lawyers comment on, critique and help draft government
environmental legislation. Litigation work involves the courts in disputes
over the interpretation of current laws. Sometimes this work involves taking
the government to court over its failure to follow its own processes.
Ramani Nadarajah works for a government environmental law association.
She says the field requires wide legal knowledge. "Sometimes constitutional
law is involved, sometimes even criminal law."
Corporate environmental lawyers work in the interests of their client.
Today many companies are looking to environmental lawyers to help them interpret
and follow government guidelines.
Peter Newell reviews laws for banks that want to know how loan documents
should be drawn up: loans must ensure borrowers comply with environmental
legislation. Newell says it's a question of liability. Banks want to ensure
things are done right so there's no risk of being liable if the borrower goes
Government environmental lawyers do work similar to that of public interest
reform lawyers. They help draft environmental legislation and critique current
Marshall Burgess is a government environmental lawyer. Many governments
are now consolidating environmental laws brought in over the last 20 years
in an effort to make them easier to work with.
"It's a very interesting area," says Burgess. "Something's happening all
the time, so it's been quite exciting."
Law professor Karin Mickelson says environmental lawyers are also needed
to interpret and advise governments on standards set out by international
treaties. She says academia, the United Nations and local and national governments
are some of the areas in which international environmental lawyers work.
Environmental law now involves practically every area of the law. According
to Cameron May, a legal text publishing company, these are some of the areas
in which environmental law may play a part: property transactions, company
acquisitions, torts, banking and finance, litigation, project finance, trade,
insurance, planning and land use, health and safety, public law, international
and criminal law.
Whatever interest they represent, environmental lawyers typically work
in an office. Like other lawyers, a lot of time is spent researching cases
in libraries and searching through expert documentation.