10 best Environmental Law Schools in the USA if you are passionate about protecting the environment and want to contribute to stopping global conglomerates from polluting the rivers with their toxic waste. If you have strong feelings, why not put those to work by practicing environmental law?
If you’re lucky enough to know the exact practice area you’re interested in post-graduation, then you probably want to take a look at the latest U.S. News Specialty Rankings. (Though it should be noted what specialty you want to practice as an attorney may vastly differ from the ideas you have before you enter law school.)
The environment continues to be a hot topic in the United States. Everyone from a politician to your neighbor has an opinion of the state of the environment. As you may have guessed, there are tons of laws surrounding the environment and a growing need for environmental lawyers who understand the ins and outs of the ever-changing legislation.
What is Environmental Law?
Environmental law is the broad area of law that examines a range of issues related to the environment; this includes water, hazardous waste, air quality, species protection, wetlands, biodiversity, agriculture, green initiatives, waste management, sustainability strategies, and alternative energy sources. It also looks at the regulation and usage of our natural resources.
Did you know that there are laws in place worldwide and locally that regulate things such as noise levels to chemical discharges and remediation? Issues such as pollutants and their containment, transport, and clean-up make up a large number of cases that you will be dealing with. What’s more, the usage of fossil fuels such as oil and gas is also highly regulated and falls under the purview of an environmental lawyer.
Environmental law courses cover topics including climate change, conservation, energy policy, public health, food systems, and sustainability. Though many law schools have classes in environmental law that students can elect to take, several American schools have standout programs. Expertise in environmental law can lead to careers at law firms, nonprofit organizations, corporations, or governmental agencies.
Environmental law focuses on the interplay between humans and the environment. With ongoing debates surrounding climate change, environmental law is quickly becoming one of the most relevant and highly sought law school concentrations.
Careers in environmental law can follow many paths. Some environmental lawyers work as advisors to businesses and corporations. Others represent individuals in environmental lawsuits. Organizations that champion environmental protection also abound, as do opportunities to make a change in government agencies and policy roles.
A strong environmental law program teaches students how to navigate this ever-shifting landscape. In addition to a strong environmental law curriculum, top schools offer environmental law institutes, climate centers, and the opportunity to learn from leaders in the field. The following ten law schools offer some of the nation’s best environmental law programs.
Many people are being drawn to environmental law. It focuses on protecting our natural resources. And climate change is affecting our lives in major ways, with experts saying that the recent wildfires in California, the deadliest ever, were fueled in part by atmospheric warming
Why Study Environmental Law?
Environmental law is important for both individuals and corporations. For lawyers who represent corporations, they provide a critical service that enables the corporation to conduct business lawfully. Lawyers who work for the EPA protect the public interest.
Besides, lawyers help individuals protect their peace and safety when they’re personally aggrieved by rule-breakers. Lawyers in the field have the opportunity to influence local, state, national, and international policies. For lawyers who have personal goals to influence environmental policies, the area of law can provide that opportunity.
Environmental law describes a network of regulations and customary laws that address the effects of human activity on the natural environment. These laws are also referred to as environmental and natural resource law and center on the idea of environmental pollution.
In addition to this issue, environmental law works to manage specific natural resources and environmental impact assessment.
There are a few key areas that environmental law works to regulate to lessen the impact on the environment. Some of these areas include:
- Air Quality
- Water Quality
- Waste Management
- Contaminant Cleanup
- Chemical Safety
- Resource Sustainability
As you can see from the list above, environmental laws play a huge part in protecting humans, animals, resources, and habitats. Without these laws, there would be no regulations concerning pollution, contamination, hunting, or even response to disasters.
Environmental law works to protect land, air, water, and soil. Negligence of these laws results in various punishments like fines, community service, and in some extreme cases, jail time. Without these environmental laws, the government would not be able to punish those who treat the environment poorly.
What careers can you do in environmental law?
With globalization only increasing in speed, sustainability is now a big priority for countries worldwide. It’s an issue that affects both the public and private sectors.
Lawyers who can counsel clients on the latest green standards and sustainability issues are in demand. Climate change, global warming, and other environmental legislation will cause a corresponding increase in legal work for environmental lawyers soon.
Also, You can choose to work in multinational corporations, private businesses, and government agencies, and of course practice in a law firm. Your expertise is needed in many areas, from ensuring compliance to existing laws to working to write new ones when necessary.
Graduates can help on Environmental Impact Assessments, testify on behalf of the public against a corporation, and help businesses find new ways to conduct their desired trades, work to help raise or lower government standards on accepted pollutants or toxins.
As mentioned earlier, you can also work in the oil and gas industry where there is a strong demand for environmental lawyers. You can specialize in issues such as habitat remediation, land utilization, water usage, and protection and toxicity levels, and pollutants.
Graduates can also choose to work in academia, in this case, and LLM or Doctor of Philosophy is needed. On the other hand, if you love writing, you can go in the opposite direction to become an environmental journalist, melding your two passions. Many writing positions today require technical knowledge regarding the issues that are being written.
What are the skills required in practicing Environmental Law?
To succeed as an environmental lawyer, you will need these skills:
- Strong research skills
- Analytical skills
- Presentation skills
- Communication skills
Related Post: How Long Does it take to become a lawyer in the USA?
10 Best Environmental Law Schools in the USA
Today, we’re looking at the rankings for a practice area that will become increasingly important as the impacts of global climate change affect the world around us: environmental law. Jobreaders.org has the new methodology for the specialty rankings
1. LEWIS AND CLARKE LAW SCHOOL
Lewis & Clark Law School was the first environmental law program in the United States. Offering 26 courses and 18 seminars, the program also includes an LL.M. in Environmental Law and a Master of Studies in Environmental and Natural Resources Law. Along with a full-time externship, students can gain practical experience through internships in animal law, environmental prosecution, natural resources law, and environmental justice and civil rights.
The school also hosts the Green Energy Institute, which manages projects and formulates policy on renewable energy, and the National Resources Law Institute, which coordinates over 20 education programs, including environmental law training for judges, lawyers, and domestic and international agencies. You can speak to a Utility Saving Expert and learn how to save on energy. Also, the school publishes two respected law journals: Environmental Law Review and Animal Law.
Located in Portland, Oregon, Lewis & Clark Law School’s Environmental, Natural Resources, & Energy Law program shares the top spot with Pace University.
The extensive, year-long environmental curriculum allows students to choose from a breadth of courses. Students can earn academic credit working in an environmental externship—recent placements have included law firms and government organizations in Oregon, the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and internationally at the Center for International Environmental Law in Geneva, Switzerland. Locally, students gain practical experience in public interest environmental law through one of Lewis & Clark’s legal clinics, the Earthrise Law Center.
Official Website: Lewis & Clark Law School
2. Harvard University Law School
Harvard Law School offers one of the world’s most innovative and renowned programs in environmental law. The school’s Environmental & Energy Law Program leads policy discussions on environmental, climate, and energy issues, and prepares students to do the same.
In addition to numerous courses focused on environmental law, the school offers student fellowships to fund summer work in the public interest environmental law field.
Opportunities to put classroom lessons to work starts early at Harvard Law School. Through the school’s Student Practice Organizations, first-year students can test their legal skills by helping local musicians understand copyright laws or representing state prison inmates at disciplinary hearings, among other opportunities.
Older students can partake in HLS legal clinics, the largest offering of any school in the world. All students must complete at least 40 hours of pro bono, or volunteer, work before graduating.
HLS is unique in its grading procedures; instead of traditional letter grades, students receive a distinction of honors, pass, low pass, or fail. The HLS buildings are folded into the university campus in Harvard Square, a hub of student life with restaurants, bars, and shops in Cambridge, Mass.
Students can live in on-campus dormitories, suites, and apartments, though more than 60 percent find housing off-campus. To give legal education a global slant, students can check out the joint J.D./LL.M. program between HLS and the U.K.’s University of Cambridge or can study abroad for a three-week winter term or a semester.
Harvard provides a rigorous practical curriculum through its Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, which trains students to perform actual legal and policy work. Students handle local, national, and international projects covering a range of environmental law issues in a variety of settings and gain experience from some of the world’s leading environmental law experts.
Official Website: Harvard University Law School
3. Vermont Law School
Vermont Law School campus, in the South Royalton Historic District, Royalton, Vermont.
Vermont Law School (VLS) offers one of the country’s largest and leading comprehensive environmental law programs. According to VLS, the school offers more degrees, more certificates, more faculty, and more research centers than any other school focused on environmental law.
Through the Environmental Law Center, students at VLS delve into critical environmental issues concerning climate, energy, land use, and more. Beyond regular courses throughout the academic year, Vermont’s Environmental Law Center also assembles a summer session, which is focused specifically on environmental law and policy issues.
In addition to its J.D. program, VLS also offers a Master of Environmental Law and Policy program, which is focused on advocacy, regulations, legislation, and markets.
Vermont Law School is one of more than 800 institutions with graduate schools surveyed by U.S. News on an annual basis. Vermont Law School offers a variety of programs including healthcare law and tax law.
For information about funding a graduate degree, including loans, financial aid, and scholarships, visit the Paying for Graduate School knowledge center.
Official Website: Vermont Law School
4. Berkeley School of Law – University of California
Berkeley Law was one of the first major law schools to enter the field of environmental law, and our program remains as strong as ever today. Our Environmental Law Program offers students opportunities to take a broad range of courses in the environmental and energy field and to engage in cutting-edge research and writing.
It also offers the chance to explore interdisciplinary perspectives on the environment, to obtain vital practical experience, and to connect with the dynamic and cutting edge Bay Area environmental law community. In 2018, our environmental law program was ranked third overall by US News and World Reports and was the highest-ranking environmental law program of the top 10 law schools.
In addition to its curricular offerings, the Environmental Law Program offers students opportunities to engage in interdisciplinary research with faculty and staff through the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE).
CLEE works to develop smart, practical solutions to critical environmental and energy challenges including climate change, renewable energy, sustainable water, and healthy oceans.
Students also have the opportunity to engage in hands-on legal experience through the Environmental Law Clinic (ELC). ELC has three main goals: making students creative and effective environmental lawyers, making an environmental difference, and addressing the environmental legal needs of underserved communities.
Students can also participate in Ecology Law Quarterly (ELQ), the nation’s leading environmental law journal. Students may become members, and eventually editors, of this pre-eminent student-run journal, writing articles and editing works submitted by leaders in the field.
Additionally, the Environmental Law and Policy Program sponsors a series of public lectures on environmental law, which gives students further insight into vital policy issues.
In addition to its environmental law program, Berkeley also offers an Energy Law Program, which focuses on energy regulation, renewable energy and alternative fuels, and energy project finance.
Official Website: Berkeley School of Law
5. University of California – Los Angeles School of Law
The UCLA School of Law is a highly ranked and relatively young public institution that is about 60 years old. Law students can cater to their legal education through specializations including Business Law and Policy, Critical Race Studies and Entertainment, Media, and Intellectual Property Law.
Students can also earn joint degrees through programs offered in conjunction with other academic divisions at UCLA, such as a J.D. /MBA through the Anderson School of Management or a J.D. /M.A. in Afro-American Studies through the UCLA Center for African American Studies.
The School of Law has nearly 20 clinics for students to get hands-on legal experience and offers the course of a unique deposition in which students and faculty members take depositions in actual cases.
There are about 20 research centers and programs, including the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy and PULSE, the Program on Understanding Law, Science, and Evidence.
There are more than 10 law journals published, including the Entertainment Law Review and the Journal of Law & Technology, and there are more than 40 organizations for students to get involved in, too.
About 70 percent of the student body at the UCLA School of Law hails from California. Students may live in university-owned housing near the campus in Los Angeles. Notable alumni of the UCLA School of Law include Henry Waxman, a U.S. Representative from California, and Kelly Perdew, a winner on the reality television series “The Apprentice.”
Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law offers a comprehensive environmental law program. Courses include Environmental Law, the Environmental Law Clinic, International Environmental Law, and Land Use, Public Natural Resources Law and Policy, and more.
A preeminent research institution, UCLA offers law students opportunities through partnerships with its other schools including the Sustainable Technology & Policy Program, a collaboration with the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
Official Website: Los Angeles School of Law
6. University of Oregon School of Law
The University of Oregon School of Law operates another forward-thinking environmental law program. The school has a long-standing program and a robust curriculum that has educated some of today’s most influential environmental lawyers.
Oregon Law students have the opportunity to choose from seven multidisciplinary research projects: Conservation Trust; Energy Law and Policy; Food Resiliency; Global Environmental Democracy; Native Environmental Sovereignty; Oceans, Coasts, and Watersheds; and Sustainable Land Use.
The Journal of Environmental Law and Litigation allows students to strengthen their research, writing, and editing skills while increasing their knowledge of environmental law.
Oregon’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law (ENR) Center focuses on public interest environmental law and provides students practical experience while exposing them to the latest environmental law issues.
The University of Oregon is one of more than 600 institutions with graduate schools surveyed by U.S. News on an annual basis. The University of Oregon confers degrees through various schools, such as the Lundquist College of Business, the School of Law, and the College of Education.
Official Website: University of Oregon School of Law
7. Georgetown University School of Law
The Georgetown Law Center is located near the heart of the American federal government in Washington, D.C. In addition to the traditional J.D., the Law Center offers joint degree programs such as the J.D./Ph.D. in Government program, which examines the effect of the law on American government and political processes.
There are additional joint degree programs offered with other highly-ranked departments at Georgetown University, including a J.D./MBA in conjunction with the McDonough School of Business, as well as a J.D./M.P.H. program offered in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Georgetown University School of Law provides an extensive environmental law curriculum. With its Washington, D.C., location, the school’s Environmental Law & Policy Program provides students unique practice opportunities.
Georgetown offers multi-level courses in domestic and international environmental law, as well as energy, natural resources, land use, historic preservation, and food law. The Georgetown Climate Center is a major influence in the national dialogue surrounding climate change.
In addition to its Environmental Law J.D., the school also offers an Environmental Law LL.M. Core courses in the Environmental Law J.D. program include Environmental Law, Advanced Environmental Law, International Environmental Law, Natural Resources Law, and the Environmental Research Workshop. Students also have the opportunity to work as environmental advocates in the school’s Institute for Public Representation and Public Policy Clinic.
Official Website: Georgetown University School of Law
8. Columbia University School of Law
Columbia University is one of more than 700 institutions with graduate schools surveyed by U.S. News on an annual basis. Columbia University confers degrees through various schools, such as the Columbia Business School, the Law School, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of Nursing.
Columbia University has long-offered a well-rounded environmental law curriculum. The school’s Environmental and Energy Law program gives students insights into the most cutting-edge environmental issues. In addition to its revered Earth Institute, Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and the Environmental Law Clinic study trends and seek solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental issues.
Columbia Law Clinic students train to become versed in key environmental law issues such as water, wetlands preservation, endangered species, environmental justice, smart growth, and clean air.
Students can also participate in several extracurricular activities focused on protecting the environment. Through the Environmental Law Society, students can obtain scholarships and fellowships in environmental law and gain advocacy experience.
Official Website: Columbia University
9. The University of Colorado—Boulder School of Law
At the University of Colorado—Boulder Law School, students can graduate with a J.D. in as little as 2.5 years. Students can focus their legal education through elective curriculums in areas including environmental and natural resource law and intellectual property, technology, and telecommunication.
There are also a variety of dual degree programs, such as a J.D./M.B.A. through the Leeds School of Business, a J.D./Master of Urban and Regional Planning via the College of Architecture and Planning, and a J.D./M.D. program through the CU—Denver School of Medicine.
In addition to a traditional legal curriculum, the school has an Experiential Learning Program that sets students up in clinics, externships, and a voluntary public service program that commits students to at least 50 hours of pro bono work before graduation. Students can also get involved in school centers, such as the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship and the Natural Resources Law Center.
Colorado Law offers a unique interdisciplinary approach to environmental law. The school issues several joint degrees, including a Doctor/Master’s in environmental studies (JD/ENVS), a Juris Doctor/Doctorate in Environmental Studies (JD/Ph.D.), and a Juris Doctor/Master of Urban and Regional Planning (JD/MURP). Students can also obtain a Graduate Energy Certificate Program and an Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate Program in Environment, Policy, and Society.
Students may also explore their interest in environmental law through Colorado Law’s Natural Resources Clinic and its Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment. Through knowledgeable staff, vigorous
Curriculum and proximity to the Rocky Mountains, Colorado’s Natural Resources, Energy, and Environmental Law program prepares students to hit the ground running in law firms, corporations, nonprofit organizations, and governmental agencies.
Official Website: Boulder School of Law
10. New York University School of Law
New York University (NYU) School of Law prepares students for environmental law careers with an innovative curriculum led by some of the nation’s most distinguished scholars. Students learn about some of the most pressing environmental issues through NYU Law’s seminars, which include instruction on food and agricultural law and policy, animal law, and international environmental law.
Students can also gain practical training and experience in NYU’s Frank J. Guarani Center on Environmental, Energy, and Land Use Law and the Institute for Policy Integrity.
The school’s student-run Environmental Law Society is another great way for students to get involved, network, and host environment-friendly initiatives.
Students can earn joint degrees through other schools at NYU, like the highly ranked Stern School of Business, or dual degrees with outside institutions including the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. There are more than 50 student organizations to check out, and students can live on the residential campus. The school also offers foreign student exchange programs, giving law students a chance to study at about 15 universities worldwide.
Notable NYU Law School alumni include John Carrig, former president and chief operating officer of energy giant ConocoPhillips Co.; Evan Chesler, chairman of the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP; and Paul Tagliabue, former commissioner of the NFL.
Official Website: New York University School of Law
We could tell you by choosing a career in environmental law that you’d truly be effecting a difference in the environment. You’ll also develop expertise in an area that a growing number of people are trying to understand. You’ll be directly involved in creating policies to protect the environment while also enforcing current policies by engaging in lawsuits.
There is a wide variety of issues environmental lawyers come across and they often represent both individuals and a company with environmental issues. For example, you may represent someone who was exposed to contamination, or a company using a specific material that may be subject to certain environmental regulations
Environmental law gives lawyers, and potential lawyers, the opportunity to combine their passion for law, as well as their passion for the environment. Environmental issues aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. With the rise in climate change discussion, the environment is going to be a hot topic for years to come.