Environmental Lawyer: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become an environmental lawyer. Learn about education and licensure requirements, average salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Environmental Lawyer Do?

Environmental lawyers specialize in environmental issues such as pollution, land use, air quality, wildlife protection and natural resource conservation. They work to protect the planet's resources and are responsible for ensuring that corporations and organizations are following the rules and regulations set forth by the government. These lawyers have both knowledge of the law and of scientific and environmental subjects, such as biodiversity, agriculture and ecosystems. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Juris Doctor
Job Responsibilities Provide legal counsel to businesses, individuals and government entities; complete applications and file licenses; conduct research, prepare case materials and go to court
Licensure Pass the bar examination in the state where you will practice
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 6% for all lawyers*
Average Salary (2015) $136,260 for all lawyers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is an Environmental Lawyer?

The field of environmental law focuses on issues of both national and international concern. According to The United States Department of Justice's (DOJ) Environment & Natural Resources Division, these issues may arise from pollution violations, environmental impact studies, wildlife protection laws and Native-American rights (www.justice.gov). Federal land use and acquisition, as well as policies affecting natural resources, are also within the purview of this field.

What Activities Would I Perform?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that environmental lawyers usually provide business, legal and personal counsel (www.bls.gov). You may, for example, complete applications, file licenses, conduct research, prepare case materials and in some cases, go to court.

In the event of natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and tornadoes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that the need for legal intervention might arise (www.epa.gov). You may also be involved with cases of criminal negligence that resulted from hazardous waste and chemical or oil spills.

What Requirements Do I Need to Meet?

You will first need to complete law school, pass your state's bar exam, and become licensed within the state where you plan to work. Law school typically takes three years to complete beyond a 4-year bachelor's degree program. The BLS also indicates that you may need to meet additional criteria for government agency employment.

If you're considering an international policy specialization, you may want to explore continuing education opportunities. The American Society of International Law (ASIL) provides a variety of continuing education and training programs (www.asil.org). In addition to public education for non-legal personnel, the ASIL's programs provide opportunities for legal professionals who may not have prior experience with international law.

According to the DOJ in 2017, you would need to be a U.S. citizen and have a minimum of one year of experience as a licensed attorney to qualify for a position, though some positions may demand more experience. You would also need to pass security checks, including a criminal background investigation. Additional requirements may include prior experience with environmental issues, administrative law, criminal law, government ethics and policy development.

What Salary Could I Expect?

According to the BLS, population growth, increased business transactions and potential litigation will provide a continued need for environmental law attorneys. This demand may be impacted, however, by the use of paralegals and mediators.

Your salary will usually be determined by the type of position you're seeking, the geographical location of your employer and your level of experience. In 2015, the BLS reported that the average annual salary for all lawyers was $136,260. According to a January 2017 search at the DOJ, an attorney could earn between $105,509 and $161,754 per year.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Paralegals or legal assistants are professionals who work closely with attorneys and clients and only need an associate's degree to start. Bachelor's degrees are needed to become arbitrators or mediators who work between groups of people to help solve disputes without taking the issue to court. Law teachers at a postsecondary institution require a doctoral degree, as do judges and hearing officers, both of which preside over courtroom activities.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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