The vitality of our planet is a trending topic, bringing a sharp focus to environmental law and the efforts of environmental lawyers to protect it. These lawyers deal in environmental rights and laws, typically working on projects related to climate change, sustainability, and renewable energy.

Whether you’re curious about the ins and outs of environmental law, environmental policy, or interested in becoming an environmental lawyer — continue reading to find out more about this rewarding legal field, and what to expect from a career in environmental law.

What Does an Environmental Lawyer Do?

Environmental law is a broad field that focuses on measures that protect the environment and natural resources. This may include issues related to air quality, water quality, chemical safety, renewable energy, climate change, waste management, and the protection of living species.

Environmental lawyers work in different sectors and may be employed by nonprofit organizations, government agencies, law firms, or as in-house counsel for corporations. Their duties may include drafting legislation and regulations or advising a corporation on how to comply with applicable regulations.

Person surveying environment

Benefits of Choosing a Career as an Environmental Lawyer

Being an environmental lawyer can be a rewarding career if you have a passion for protecting the environment and influencing policy change. As an environmental lawyer, you can enjoy the following benefits:

Environmental Impact

The biggest advantage of working in environmental law is having a positive impact on the environment and our natural resources. Though environmental law covers everything from the disposal of toxic waste to advocating for endangered species, environmental lawyers can make a real difference.

Variety of Work

Environmental law covers a wide range of sectors, which means that environmental lawyers practice in various ways. They may work for government or regulatory agencies, where they can help create policies, engage in lobbying efforts, or coordinate environmental advocacy programs. Additionally, environmental lawyers can also work in more conventional legal roles, such as defending clients in criminal and civil cases related to environmental law.

Personal Fulfillment

Environmental law can be an intellectually challenging career, with opportunities to handle cases with significant impact on society. Environmental lawyers comprehend the gravity of the current climate crisis and can derive satisfaction from their work, knowing that they are contributing to tangible progress and effecting change.

Competitive Salary

Like many other practice areas, environmental law offers competitive salaries and plenty of opportunities across the country. As this market grows and more focus is put on sustainability, it’s expected that the job demand for environmental lawyers will continue to grow.

How to Become an Environmental Lawyer

While the path to becoming an environmental lawyer mimics other law practices, there are specializations aspiring environmental lawyers should consider.

Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to a career path in environmental law is getting a bachelor’s degree. Though there are no requirements for your major to get into law school, some of the common majors include political science, environmental studies, science, economics, English, and humanities.

With your undergraduate education, the success of your law school applications will come down to your grade point average, which should be at least 3.5, and a good score on your Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Otherwise, each law school will have its own additional requirements for admission.

Apply and Attend Law School

After you earn a bachelor’s degree, you will have to attend law school. It typically takes three years to receive a Juris Doctor (JD). During this time, you will learn the ins and outs of law as a foundation, then your later years will be tailored to your practice area. You may be able to take classes like land use law, marine resources law, and energy law to gain a deeper understanding of environmental issues and the regulations around them.

Take the Bar Exam

To become licensed, you have to take and pass the bar exam in the state you intend to practice. The format of the bar exam varies by state, but you can prepare with practice courses and resources to ensure success.

Consider Postgraduate Programs

After you earn your JD, you have options to deepen your learning by earning a Master of Laws (LLM), a Master of Environmental Law, or a Ph.D. with a focus on environmental law and current issues, such as land use or air quality control.

Environmental lawyer

Essential Skills of an Environmental Lawyer

What does it take to be an environmental lawyer? Passion for the environment and environmental issues are essential for success in this field, but there are plenty of skills that align with the legal field in general.

Research and Analytical Skills

Lawyers need to be strong researchers, but more so with environmental law. This practice area has broad and complex laws, so it’s imperative to be a capable researcher to analyze case law, environmental data, and regulations.

Communication and Interpersonal Skills

Environmental lawyers can take on many roles, but they all require written and verbal communication. Lawyers may need to communicate with clients, colleagues, and stakeholders, as well as large groups. They also need to have a grasp of strategic communication as an advocate for the environment and natural resources.

Process and Organizational Skills

Organizational skills are also important for environmental lawyers in law firms, government agencies, and in-house counsel positions. Innovative firms embrace tools like law practice management software for tasks like legal case management, workflow management, and billing, allowing environmental lawyers to focus more on their passion. 

The job outlook for lawyers is expected to grow 10% from 2021 to 2031. As sustainability becomes a priority, the demand for environmental lawyers is expected to grow — and continue to grow —in the coming years.

How Much Do Environmental Lawyers Make?

The average salary for an environmental lawyer in the US is $181,586. The salaries can vary widely with a reported range of $34,720 to $799,563.

Best States to Work as an Environmental Lawyer

Currently, San Francisco, CA, has one of the highest average salaries for environmental lawyers and plenty of opportunities in the private sector in law firms or as in-house counsel. Washington, DC is another prime location for environmental lawyers, due to the growing demand for environmental lawyers in government agencies.

Washington State and New York also offer opportunities for growth and competitive salaries in environmental law, especially in major cities. The same is true of Texas, particularly in bustling cities like Houston.

Outlook on Environmental Lawyers

As our planet and natural resources face increasing pressure from climate change, the demand for environmental lawyers will only grow. If you’re passionate about the law and the environment, this field of law offers rewarding work that makes a difference now and in the future. 

Download as PDF

Want a copy of this article? Download it for free!

Download This Post PDF Icon