Environmental laws seek to protect the natural environment from human activities. The first environmental laws were made in England more than 300 years ago. In the past 50 years, countries around the world have enacted legislation to regulate pollution, remediation and resource conservation. A new type of legal specialist has emerged to help companies, government agencies and advocacy groups comply with environmental regulations and deal with the various issues that may arise when laws are broken. This legal specialist is known as an environmental lawyer.
Like all lawyers, environmental lawyers must have a working knowledge of the legal system. They also should be familiar with current environmental laws and regulations in the jurisdiction in which they plan to practice. Research skills are particularly important, as environmental lawyers often are responsible for sorting through written regulations and other texts so that they can prepare client recommendations, legal defenses and legal advice. Other important qualities include analytical skills, problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills and communication skills.
Specific job duties can vary depending on whether the lawyer is working as an advocate or an adviser. For example, an environmental lawyer who works for an advocacy group or government agency that enforces regulations might compile evidence, interview witnesses and develop and present cases for prosecution. An environmental lawyer employed by a waste management company, on the other hand, may focus on helping her client understand laws, comply with regulations, draft pleadings and other documents, negotiate agreements with governments or defend cases in court. All environmental lawyers must carefully research the law and act in the best interests of the party they represent.
Some environmental lawyers are also environmentalists. They support the idea of protecting nature at work and on their own time. Like other environmentalists, they might participate in advocacy groups, public interest lobbying, education campaigns and various aspects of the environmental movement.
Education and Licensing
Although there are varying routes to becoming a lawyer, most individuals complete seven years of training after high school. They take courses in contracts, environmental law, environmental science, conservation, civil procedure, legal writing and related topics. All states require lawyers to pass a bar examination prior to practicing. Being admitted to the bar is the equivalent of being licensed in other professions. Most states also require practicing lawyers to participate in continuing education courses to stay up-to-date on current environmental laws and regulations.
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