How to Become an Environmental Lawyer

If you are passionate about protecting the environment and interested in pursuing a career in law, read on to learn about the process of becoming an environmental lawyer. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Environmental Lawyers at a Glance

Environmental lawyers interpret environmental laws on behalf of government agencies, public interest nonprofits, and private businesses. With myriad local, state, and federal environmental regulations in place today, environmental law has become a vast and complex specialization of legal practice. Environmental lawyers are tasked with helping clients navigate those regulations. They might be hired to help clients comply with existing regulations, fight regulations that may be harming clients, or advocate for new regulations that are desperately needed. Read the table below for a quick overview of this career.

Required Education Bachelor's and Juris Doctor (JD) degrees
Licensure Applicable state bar exam
Key Skills Verbal and written communication; research skills
Career Outlook (2016-2026) 8% growth (for all lawyers)*
Median Salary (2018) $120,910 (for all lawyers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Should I Study to Become an Environmental Lawyer?

As licensed attorneys, all environmental lawyers need to have completed a bachelor's degree and a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from an accredited law school. After receiving your bachelor's degree in any discipline (there are no major requirements for law school applicants), you must pass the LSAT exam in order to apply to law school. Many law schools offer environmental law concentrations, but even those that don't have classes that can expose you to environmental law concepts.

Do I Need to Be Licensed?

In order to practice law in any discipline (including environmental law), all lawyers must complete the bar exam to get licensed in their state of residence. Examinations, eligibility, deadlines, and preparation requirements vary by state, though many states are members of the Uniform Bar Examination (which allow you to apply for licensure in multiple states with one test series). It is important to check the relevant requirements on your state's bar website as they change regularly.

What Kinds of Employers Do Environmental Lawyers Work For?

Environmental lawyers are sometimes employed by federal or state government agencies. In those roles, they are tasked with defending the government when organizations sue for unfair environmental regulations. They also help those agencies update or draft new regulations for improved results.

At the international level, environmental lawyers assist governments in drafting the environmental aspects of treaty negotiations. They may also represent countries accused of violating environmental agreements before international tribunals. For nonprofit organizations, environmental lawyers help advocate for new laws or regulations that are believed urgent. For private corporations, environmental lawyers help clients adhere to existing laws or fight unfair regulations.

How Do I Find My First Job as an Environmental Lawyer?

To be hired for your first job in this field, it is important to provide evidence of your passion for the environment in addition to background education in environmental law concepts. Many employers prefer candidates who have taken environmental law classes, graduated with environmental law specializations, or completed internships in environmental law. Highlight these experiences in your resume to stand out from other applicants, and use your cover letter to explain how the skills you acquired in those pursuits perfectly align with the job opportunity or employer.

What Are the Salary and Career Outlook for Environmental Lawyers?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an 8% growth in job opportunities for all lawyers is expected between 2016 and 2026. The BLS reports the median salary for all lawyers, including environmental lawyers, as $120,910 in 2018. The bottom 10% earned under $58,220, and the top 10% earned over $208,000. The salary range reflects the different types of employers environmental lawyers work for; the salary potential from a nonprofit organization is different from that of a private business or government agency.

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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