Skip to content


The Democratic Staff Director of the House Energy and Commerce Committee negotiates the language of environmental legislation. A staff attorney with the Office of Enforcement at the Department of Energy writes regulations to ensure that consumer products meet efficiency standards. The Beagle/HLS Fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council has sued the government for failing to protect endangered fish species from overfishing. And the Director of Investor Programs at Ceres, advises corporations to encourage investment in environmentally-sound business practices. These are only a few examples of the many and varied career options for environmental lawyers. 

Environmental lawyers often appear before federal, state, and administrative law courts—representing government agencies, enforcing laws through citizen suits, and challenging agency action in administrative hearings. But environmental law practice involves a much broader skill set. Environmental attorneys draft legislation and lobby elected officials; advise policymakers in all levels of government; participate in the rulemaking process and design new regulatory regimes; develop innovative approaches to permitting; coordinate community education and outreach efforts; and engage in public policy discussions at think tanks and academic institutions. Environmental attorneys also support business and property transactions for land conservation; negotiate financing deals for start-up renewable energy companies; participate in public-private partnerships to experiment with new technologies; and consult with industry on how to achieve compliance with myriad environmental laws. In short, the field of environmental law offers professional choices that can be remarkably diverse and satisfying for the public interest lawyer. 

Initially, environmental legal issues were addressed primarily through common law negligence, nuisance, and property lawsuits, and to a lesser degree through a limited number of federal, state, and local laws controlling land and water usage. Environmental law as practiced today, however, has much of its basis in federal environmental statutes enacted within the past forty years. This body of law aims to protect the environment from pollution and overuse, and gives individuals and groups the right to bring legal action. Some major federal environmental laws include: 

  • The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970, which requires that federal agencies undertake “Environmental Impact Studies” before pursuing projects that impact the environment. 
  • The Clean Air Act of 1963 and the Clean Water Act of 1972, which regulate the release of pollutants into the air and water. 
  • The Endangered Species Act of 1973, which designates and protects species on the verge of extinction. 
  • The Comprehensive Environmental Response and Conservation Act (The “Superfund” Act) of 1980, which assigns liability to polluters who contaminate sites with hazardous waste and requires them to pay for clean-up. 

Despite nontrivial legislative grounding, environmental law is not limited to environmental statutes. Administrative regulations, agency decisions, and policy at the federal, state and local levels all help to achieve these goals. In addition, environmental law cuts across many different disciplines including corporate law, contract and commercial law, administrative law, constitutional law, property law, bankruptcy law, criminal law, food and drug law, land use planning law, and international law. 

A distinctive aspect of environmental practice is the role of science in advocacy efforts. Many would-be environmental attorneys are intimidated by the field because of the perception that it requires scientific expertise. While environmental lawyers often work alongside scientists to achieve their goals, this collaboration allows scientists to concentrate on the science and lawyers to concentrate on the law. Most environmental practitioners agree that the key to the successful practice of environmental law is the mastery of fundamental lawyering skills—negotiation, research, writing, and oral advocacy—important to the practice of law in any field. As Allan Kanner ’79 puts it, “Being an environmental attorney is all about simplifying.” Your job is to make sure that people who may be unfamiliar with environmental issues—juries, judges, regulators, legislators, corporate actors, and the public—understand and agree with your argument. 

Environmental protection often creates unique litigation challenges. Public interest environmental attorneys’ traditional clients are government entities, community groups, and nonprofit organizations, although occasionally they represent nontraditional clients like wildlife, endangered species, ecosystems and natural landmarks. In addition to litigating traditional disputes involving direct personal injuries, they bring nontraditional cases: defending nature, asserting aesthetic values, and challenging the legitimacy of public policies. In these cases, environmental litigators can face jurisdictional hurdles. Because environmental plaintiffs frequently claim that the defendant’s actions harm the public interest, courts may conclude that the plaintiff does not have standing. Plaintiffs in environmental cases often must prove mootness, or that some action of the court could effectively deter the defendant from future violations. Environmental cases may be dismissed if the court believes that they are not “ripe,” meaning that the plaintiff has not yet suffered any demonstrable harm. 

Environmental attorneys also grapple with serious ethical questions. They must manage the tension between environmental protection and economic development. They protect not only the environment but also human interests by distributing environmental risks fairly, preventing job loss, and ensuring access to natural resources. Since the scientific understanding of environmental issues evolves rapidly, attorneys must make sure that the law keeps up—and must build legal regimes from scratch to handle new environmental problems. For example, environmental attorneys are working to devise regulatory frameworks to enable carbon capture and sequestration. In energy law, attorneys are developing a system of liability to protect people and the environment from the risks of hydraulic fracturing, a natural gas extraction method. Lawyers are also crafting legal and financial frameworks to promote solutions to climate change. Ultimately, attorneys must deal with what is perhaps the seminal environmental challenge of our time: asking society to pay “here and now” for benefits that will accrue “there and then” to other parts of the world and future generations. They must convince politicians, the public, and the courts that environmental problems—which often have effects that are not readily evident—are worth solving. 

These are complicated, ongoing dilemmas, and environmental attorneys tackle them daily. This guide offers a glimpse into the options available to a public interest environmental law practitioner. In the pages to follow, you will find a summary of issue areas and practice settings in the field, information about environmental law opportunities at HLS, strategies for starting a career, and insights from accomplished environmental lawyers. We hope that this guide is a useful introduction to this fascinating area of legal practice. 

Issue Areas

There are many ways to categorize the different issues lawyers may tackle in the complex field of environmental law. This particular organization is designed to give you a sense of the shape and breadth of the field, and is not meant to be exhaustive or authoritative. Because many environmental offices practice in a variety of areas, the following content distinctions do not necessarily correspond to discrete practice settings.

Pollution Control

Pollution laws prevent the contamination of air, water, and soil by hazardous substances. In addition to statutes at the state and local level, major federal pollution laws include: 

  • The Clean Air Act of 1967 
  • The National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 
  • The Clean Water Act of 1972 

At government agencies, lawyers develop and enforce these pollution laws. For example, in his work for the U.S. Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division, Tom Benson ’04 has enforced the Clean Air Act by suing polluters. “As people are brought into compliance with the law, they’ll pollute less, and that has a real impact on people’s lives,” Benson notes. In non-governmental settings, pollution control lawyers lobby legislatures, litigate citizen suits, and challenge regulations in administrative courts. 

Concerns about climate change drive the work of many pollution control lawyers. For instance, lawyers advocate for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions not only to protect air quality, but also to mitigate the effects of global warming. 

Natural Resources Law

Natural resource laws govern the extraction and use of water, minerals, oil, and timber; the protection of wildlife and their habitats; and the use of public lands like national forests and parks. These laws prevent the misuse, overuse, and damage of resources. At government agencies, natural resources attorneys write regulations and make sure that developers follow relevant statutes. Non-governmental lawyers lobby and litigate to lessen the environmental impacts of resource development. 

Land Use Law

Land use laws limit the permissible uses of land. They define rules for zoning, city planning, and residential patterns. In the public interest, lawyers ensure that these laws protect natural or scenic resources and maintain biodiversity. Attorneys practicing in this field may work for state and local governments enforcing local land use laws and defending permitting decisions; in nonprofit organizations representing environmental interests in all stages of land use planning; and in private firms challenging permitting decisions or advising nonprofit and government developers.

One issue in land use law includes planning innovative and sustainable cities. Environmental lawyers support and advocate for city plans that consume less energy and release fewer emissions. 

Environmental Justice

Low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are more likely to face environmental risks. Since the 1980s, environmental justice lawyers have worked to achieve a fairer distribution of environmental burdens and benefits for these disadvantaged groups. 

Combining civil rights, social justice, and environmental concerns, public interest lawyers pursue two strategies to achieve environmental justice. First, they represent disadvantaged groups in environmental and toxic tort claims. On behalf of these groups, they sue the government or a company engaged in harmful environmental practices. For example, as the Director of the Environmental Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Gavin Kearney sued the City of New York to remove toxic light fixtures from inner-city schools.  In doing so, “I had the opportunity to directly advance the health of these communities,” he remarks. 

Second, through community organizing and media campaigns, lawyers seek to empower people affected by environmental hazards. Environmental justice attorneys argue that disadvantaged groups ought to participate in the policy-making process.

International Environmental Law

Most environmental problems—like pollution, resource scarcity, and threats to biodiversity—are not confined within national borders.

International treaties, agreements, and negotiations work to address these global environmental problems. Some of the most significant international environmental agreements include: 

  • The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 
  • The 1989 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer 
  • The 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Environmental Waste and Their Disposal 
  • The 1999 Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 
  • The 2009 Copenhagen Accord to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 
  • The Paris Agreement, 2016 

These agreements were all achieved with the input of environmental lawyers who serve as representatives of governments, international bodies, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations.

Not only do environmental lawyers draft international laws, they also enforce them. International environmental lawyers participate in arbitration tribunals and help resolve disputes between states. Attorneys also make sure that international environmental agreements are implemented as planned.

Climate Change

Climate change and sustainability are arguably the central environmental issues of our lifetime.  The combustion of fossil fuels has changed the Earth’s temperature, precipitation, and ecosystems. Since the early 2000s, the scientific consensus around climate change—the warming of the Earth’s climate system as a result of human activities—has rapidly accelerated work in this field. Climate change lawyers use legal tools to address the underlying causes of climate change: greenhouse gas emissions.  

 As the burden of dealing with the impacts of climate change falls increasingly on individual communities and their governments, lawyers will also be critical to providing and implementing solutions to changing climate conditions. This work will require amending laws, rewriting regulations, or interpreting statutes in new ways.

Energy Law

Energy law governs the use of electricity, gas, and oil, along with renewable energies like nuclear, solar, wind, water, and geothermal power. State and federal regulations define nearly every aspect of utility use. Since public utility companies maintain monopolies over the utility industry, they are highly regulated, explains David Littell ’92, the former Commissioner of the Maine Public Utilities Commission. 

Government lawyers ensure that companies follow mandated price structures, permit rules, and emission standards. Abigail Burger Chingos ’09 formerly of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Enforcement enforces federal minimum energy conservation standards for consumer products, like washing machines, and industrial equipment. “One of my most exciting cases,” recalls Chingos, “was a settlement for approximately $4.5 million against Midea, a Chinese appliance manufacturer, for various standards violations.” 

Unsurprisingly, past trends in energy law have centered on climate change and its effects. Energy lawyers are laying the legal groundwork for cleaner sources of energy. They design regulatory regimes for new power sources or advocate for climate conscious energy policies. They also support the permitting and financing of solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric power. 

Food Law

Federal, state, and local laws govern how food is grown, transported, and processed. The relatively new field of “food law” aims to remedy problems in our food systems, including lack of access to fresh food, risks from genetically engineered foods, and the effects of climate change on agriculture. Interdisciplinary by nature, “food law spans a lot of issues,” says Ona Balkus ’13, a Fellow at the Food Law Clinic at HLS. “It’s an effective way to address concerns about the environment, social justice, poverty, and many other areas we grapple with as a society.” 

With the goal of making food systems safer and healthier, government and nonprofit lawyers research food problems and inform policy-making. They might draft guidelines, laws, and regulations, or educate and empower communities about food issues. Alternatively, many food attorneys perform conventional litigation. In suing corporations or government agencies for practices that are harmful to human health or the environment, they appear in court, participate in discovery, and draft motions, briefs, and memos. 

Water Law

Laws protect water sources from pollution, and defend marine habitats from degradation. Some of the major federal statutes that affect the field of water law include: 

  • The Clean Water Act of 1972 
  • The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 
  • The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 

Water lawyers confront threats to our rivers, lakes, oceans, groundwater, and wetlands. As a result of climate change and environmental accidents, issues in water law are abundant and constantly changing; oil spills, melting polar ice caps, and shipping emissions are only a few current problems. 

A key objective for many water lawyers, like Jill Witkowski, formerly of San Diego Coastkeeper, is to ensure access to safe, local, and reliable sources of drinking water.

Other water lawyers preserve ecosystems; Eric Bilsky ’91, a Senior Litigator at Oceana, protects marine species from destructive fishing and climate change.

Practice Settings

With increased concern about climate change and environmental protection in the U.S. and abroad, work for environmental lawyers has expanded in the past few decades. This section provides background information on the three most common settings in which public interest environmental lawyers practice: government, nonprofit organizations, and private public interest firms. 


Both the executive and the legislative branches offer numerous opportunities for lawyers to engage in environmental practice. From drafting legislation and regulations to defending and enforcing environmental laws, the activities of government lawyers are many and varied. 


On the federal level, environmental attorneys provide counsel to agencies, litigate cases on behalf of the government, and write legislation, regulations, and implementation standards. The work of federal attorneys may be substantively varied or narrow; some federal attorneys may tackle diverse issues ranging from the effects of climate change to applications of Native American law in a single appointment, while others may litigate to enforce just one environmental statute.

It is not uncommon for federal attorneys to find themselves on both the affirmative and defensive side of environmental disputes; as Elizabeth Forsyth ’11 explains, “In a federal job, you may be defending coal permits, for example.” Indeed, it is the job of federal attorneys to defend the government when it is sued for damaging the environment. 

One advantage to practicing in the federal government is access to resources. According to Matthew Littleton ’11, an attorney with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD): “We have unparalleled internal resources. […] If I want to understand how an agency reached a particular interpretation of a statute—a story that isn’t always clear from the public record—I can call up the agency and they’ll tell me. If I want to understand a particular technology at issue in the case, I have access to people who can explain it to me.” 

Tom Benson ’04, who is also an attorney with ENRD, agrees: “We have been co-plaintiffs with [nonprofit public interest environmental organizations,] and they cannot bring resources together like the federal government can. […] When DOJ decides that an issue is a priority, we can devote unmatched resources to a case,” he says.

Other advantages of federal environmental work include the possibility of travel and geographic diversity. Many ENRD lawyers participate in temporary details at U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. In addition, federal employment need not require relocation to Washington, D.C., since many agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior, have regional offices. 

According to Matthew Littleton ’11, perhaps one of the greatest benefits of government work is that “compared to the private sector, there is room for autonomy and responsibility at an early stage.” In leanly staffed federal agencies, every entry-level attorney is given significant responsibility from day one.

Many government attorneys point to bureaucratic and political frustrations as major disadvantages of their job. “There are several layers of bureaucratic review for all work product,” Littleton says. “It can be frustrating to work on cases where a legislative solution ought to be feasible, but the political reality is disheartening.” Environmental work, in particular, faces partisan gridlock. Issues are hotly contested in the legislature. Dale Bryk ’93 elaborates, “Much of Congress does not acknowledge that climate change is occurring. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to make environmental progress at the federal level.” 

Executive Branch

The Department of Justice is responsible for the enforcement of federal law and employs both criminal prosecutors and civil lawyers who handle affirmative and defensive litigation. While the great majority of DOJ attorneys are litigators (both trial and appellate), some DOJ attorneys also work on legislation, policy development, and other federal initiatives. 

Most of the over fifty federal executive branch agencies also have lawyers on staff serving as in-house counsel or in other capacities. Here, the work focuses less on litigation and more on the legal opinion, counseling or regulatory aspects of lawyering. Lawyers work closely with agency administrators, give advice on legal issues, provide meaningful input into the development and implementation of the agency’s substantive programs and policies, draft legislation and regulations, review and investigate applications and complaints, and represent the agency in administrative proceedings. Although the Department of Justice generally represents federal agencies in litigation, some in-house agency attorneys may conduct specialized litigation. Other agencies may have been given independent litigating authority in their enabling statutes; these agencies typically have a team of litigators, often involved in enforcement work. 

Below, we profile those federal agencies with significant roles in environmental oversight. For each agency, we describe its mission and discuss litigation, regulatory, and policy careers. 

  • Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division

    To “ensure clean air, water, and land for all Americans,” ENRD brings civil and criminal cases on behalf of the federal government against those who violate pollution and wildlife protection laws. The Division also litigates to protect government interests on related issues, including: Native American rights and land claims, land acquisition by eminent domain, and the management of public lands. By representing federal agencies in litigation, ENRD enforces agency decisions on environmental questions. ENRD often represents, for instance, the Forest Service, the Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Department of Transportation. At the same time, ENRD lawyers advise these agencies on the litigation impacts of their regulatory decisions. In their defensive capacity, ENRD lawyers frequently represent the government when it is sued for violating environmental statutes. For example, ENRD protects federal facilities against allegations of Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act violations.

    ENRD’s work is best suited for students who are interested in litigation at the federal district and appellate level. ENRD lawyers rarely practice in administrative or state courts, or conduct policy work. Students interested in ENRD should also be prepared for the challenges of litigation. Tom Benson ’04 says, “Litigation is inherently frustrating; it’s adversarial, judges don’t agree with us, and we often lose.” 

  • Environmental Protection Agency

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is “the federal agency with primary responsibility for implementing the nation’s environmental laws,” including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the “Superfund” Act. Attorneys primarily work in the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), providing advice on nearly 90 federal laws, along with many executive orders, regulations, and international treaties. EPA attorneys provide litigation support to the DOJ and U.S. Attorneys Offices and propose, evaluate, and enforce regulations; for example, an EPA attorney might interpret a federal law and then draft a regulation to impose a penalty on industries that emit a certain pollutant. Attorneys also work in the agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA). There, they sanction polluters and work on the EPA’s environmental justice initiatives.

    Since each of the EPA’s ten regions has its own Office of Regional Counsel (ORC), the EPA offers many geographic options outside of Washington, DC. At each ORC, attorneys give advice on federal, state, and local environmental laws. As a result, ORCs afford the opportunity to specialize in the environmental issues that affect a particular climate.

  • Department of Energy

    The Department of Energy (DOE) works to encourage the use of clean, sustainable energy resources. While DOE’s mission is to implement new and innovative power sources, it also works to make gas, coal, and oil more efficient. DOE is also charged with enhancing nuclear safety and dealing with nuclear waste.

    DOE offers a wealth of litigation, transactional, regulatory, and policy opportunities:

    • For those interested in litigation, the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) defends challenges to DOE programs in federal and administrative courts.
    • For those interested in transactional work, the Office of Technology Transfer and Procurement offers opportunities to advise on the financial and intellectual property activities of the DOE.
    • For those interested in regulatory work, the Office of Enforcement ensures that consumer products and industrial equipment meet energy and water efficiency standards.
    • For those interested in policy, attorneys in Office of the Deputy General Counsel for Energy Policy comment on energy legislation and rulemaking.
  • Department of the Interior

    The Department of the Interior (DOI) is tasked with the conservation of federal lands. Specifically, DOI manages national parks and wildlife refuges, invests in natural resource development, and conducts research on climate change, energy, and ecological issues. DOI also administers the government’s programs for tribal nations, so it is the federal agency of choice for students interested in Native American affairs.

    Most attorneys at DOI work in the Office of the Solicitor (OS), where they provide legal advice, counsel, and representation to the Department. They frequently litigate before administrative tribunals and collaborate with the DOJ to litigate in federal courts. OS attorneys must resolve complicated disputes arising under the takings clause, Indian law, land use law, and environmental protection law. For those interested in policy rather than litigation, the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs (OCL) serves as DOI’s liaison to Congress, interpreting environmental legislation for the agency and articulating the agency’s position in congressional testimony.

    DOI offers attorney appointments throughout the U.S. in eight regional offices and ten field offices. In fact, over half of the agency’s 600 attorneys are stationed outside of Washington, DC.

  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

    In response to the Enron Scandal and California electricity crisis in 2001, Congress gave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sweeping powers to oversee energy markets. FERC regulates oil, natural gas, and electricity that are transmitted across state boundaries. The Commission’s responsibilities include setting wholesale rates for transporting energy, approving the construction of pipelines, reviewing mergers and acquisitions by electrical companies, and ensuring that energy transport follows environmental guidelines.

    At FERC, many attorneys work in the Office of Administrative Litigation (OAL), where they litigate cases against the energy industry in administrative courts. Those interested in market oversight might be drawn to the Office of Enforcement (OE), which monitors the energy industry, assures compliance with the Commission’s rules, and issues penalties.

    FERC’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC) represents the Commission in litigation before federal district and appellate courts, and advises on the legality of the Commission’s rules. For students interested in legislative policy, OGC attorneys represent the Commission before Congress.

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    Staffed by scientists, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) works to ensure that communities are prepared for the effects of climate change and natural disasters. In the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), attorneys provide legal support to NOAA’s research services, including the National Weather Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the National Ocean Service. Enforcement attorneys act as NOAA’s civil prosecutors, suing companies that violate NOAA regulations. Both the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs and the Office of International Affairs, which represent NOAA before Congress and other governments, respectively, offer opportunities for policy work.

  • Department of Defense

    The Department of Defense (DOD) works to reduce the environmental impact of its defense missions. Attorneys in the Office of the General Counsel’s (OGC) Environment and Installations Section support this work by advising the agency on the legal implications of a wide range of environmental security challenges, such as developing environmentally efficient weapons, restoring contaminated land, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from military installations. These attorneys make sure that DOD projects meet environmental regulatory standards. DOD attorneys also represent the agency in challenges to its environmental program.

  • Department of Transportation

    Tasked with administering programs for aviation, railroad, maritime, and highway travel, the Department of Transportation (DOT) also promotes environmentally sound policies. For instance, DOT enforces fuel economy standards, regulates oil pipelines, governs the disposal of hazardous materials, and finances public transit. Attorneys in DOT’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC) assist the agency in implementing and enforcing transportation-related environmental legislation. They also advise specific DOT agencies, including the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, and Federal Transit Administration, on environmental regulations related to emissions reduction, pipeline safety, and wildlife hazard mitigation.

  • Department of Agriculture

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers programs to support agriculture, nutrition, and food safety. Attorneys in the Office of the General Counsel provide legal advice to agency officials in all Departmental branches and services, including the Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Services, and work with the Department of Justice to represent the Department in civil and criminal litigation. In their advisory role, many attorneys write and revise regulations on issues ranging from food safety and child nutrition programs to pesticide use. Attorneys working with the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) also perform enforcement work, making sure that food producers comply with relevant regulations. For those interested in policy work, the USDA has an Office of Congressional Relations (OCR), which serves as the Department’s liaison with Capitol Hill. These attorneys communicate the USDA’s agenda to the House Committee on Agriculture and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

    The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a USDA agency, runs federal programs in land use, water management, soil quality protection, and climate change mitigation. Combining food and environmental issues, NRCS ensures that agriculture does not damage the sustainability of the land. Attorneys at NRCS can work in legislative policy or in implementing conservation contracts and programs. OGC attorneys regularly assist the NCRS with administration of the Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, the Grassland Reserve Program, Wetland Reserve Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, and the Healthy Forest Reserve Program.

  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) protects people and the environment from the harmful effects of nuclear radiation. NRC regulates reactor safety, plant siting, nuclear waste disposal, and nuclear security issues. Lawyers in the NRC’s Office of the General advise on all aspects of rulemaking and represent the agency in administrative litigation. Enforcement lawyers ensure that nuclear power programs comply with NRC regulations. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel also hires attorneys to adjudicate hearings and issue permits.

    Because attorneys in NRC offices are encouraged to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in lieu of litigation in their dealings with nuclear power providers, NRC offers unique opportunities for students interested in ADR work.

  • Army Corps of Engineers

    Keeping environmental sustainability in mind, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) manages engineering projects for military and civilian infrastructure. Attorneys at ACE work in the Legal Services System, where they support ACE’s construction projects. Environmental attorneys, in particular, ensure that ACE programs meet regulatory standards. They also assist on ACE’s clean-up and preservation projects, like those in the Florida Everglades. Kristen Hite, for example, began her legal career with ACE in New Orleans, where she advised the Corps on coastline regeneration projects after Hurricane Katrina. ACE offers opportunities for attorneys to work in 51 offices throughout the U.S. and the world, including Iraq, Korea, Japan, and Germany.

  • White House Council on Environmental Quality

    The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) was established in the 1970s under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). NEPA acknowledged that federal agencies ought to lessen their environmental impact and tasked the CEQ with that goal. CEQ assesses the actions of federal agencies and makes sure they fit environmental standards. When agencies disagree about environmental rules, CEQ referees. The Council also provides policy support to the President; CEQ’s chair serves as the President’s key environmental advisor. As a result, CEQ develops the White House’s environment, energy, and sustainability initiatives.

Legislative Branch

If legislative work interests you, there are many opportunities to affect environmental policy on Capitol Hill. Several committees of the United States Senate and House of Representatives handle environmental issues, including: the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works; and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. These committees are further organized into subcommittees to address specific topics, such as the House Subcommittee on Aviation and the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks. 

Each committee and subcommittee hires its own counsels from the majority and minority parties. These attorneys might research the committee’s issues, advise members on legislative responses, and draft legislation. The most common way to find work as Committee Counsel is through the office of a committee member.

Not only do committees perform legislative work, they also participate in oversight. They are charged with investigating federal agencies to make sure that the agencies are applying a law as Congress intended. In this capacity, committees can subpoena agency officials, hold hearings, write reports, and set up temporary or permanent subcommittees to gather information. Most environmental committees hire Oversight and Investigations Staff who monitor the regulations promulgated by related agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, and Department of the Interior. Jeff Baran ’01, who works under Barnett as Staff Counsel to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, monitored the implementation of a federal program to clean up uranium contamination on Navajo tribal lands. “We held hearings, and developed a Five-Year Plan,” he says. “Before we joined the project, federal agencies hadn’t done much for the Navajo. We pushed them along.” 


Many opportunities for environmental work exist at the state level. Not only do states implement federal environmental laws, many have their own parallel systems of environmental protection. As a result, most states have environmental agencies that rely on attorneys to develop and enforce state environmental laws and regulations. For example, as Deputy Commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, David Littell ’92 worked to implement state greenhouse gas initiatives and wetlands protection laws. Examples of state environmental agencies include the California Environmental Protection Agency, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and the Arizona Department of Water Resources. It is useful to keep in mind that certain states, like California, have expansive environmental programs and thus more opportunities for environmental attorneys. 

For attorneys interested in energy law, many states have public utilities commissions.

In addition to practicing in state environmental agencies, attorneys also serve in environmental sections of state attorney generals’ offices. In that capacity, they represent the state and its environmental protection agencies in defensive and affirmative litigation, advise agencies on environmental policies, lobby the legislature, assist in the development of environmental laws, and coordinate public education efforts.

In the absence of comprehensive federal climate change legislation, many states have taken the lead on climate adaptation. States are also tackling unique geographic, economic, and ecologic challenges because of climate change. As a result, some of the most innovative work in climate change law can be found at the state level. Several states have hired scientists and policymakers to devise climate adaptation plans. Past legislation in California, New Jersey, New York, Washington, and other states created economy or industry-wide greenhouse gas reduction targets. Usually, these programs are administered by the state’s executive agencies, whose attorneys write and enforce new regulations. States are also collaborating across borders. For example, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which was negotiated by Dale Bryk ’93, creates a cap-and-trade program in ten Northeastern states. 


Local governments also have agencies focused on environmental protection. Examples of local agencies with an environment-specific mission include the Boston Conservation Commission and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Local governments also employ environmental attorneys in their city/county attorney’s offices, in units such as the Land Use and Environmental Law Division of the Broward County Attorney’s Office in Florida, or the Environmental Law Division of the New York City Corporation Counsel’s Office. 

Environmental attorneys can also work in sections of local district attorney’s offices, such as the Consumer and Environmental Protection Division of California’s Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. These agencies/units implement and enforce state and federal environmental laws and pass local environmental ordinances usually in areas of local jurisdiction such as conservation, wetlands protection, waste disposal, and land use zoning. 

As an Assistant Corporation Counsel at the Environmental Law Division of the New York City Law Department, Devon Goodrich ’11 has a diverse practice. She litigates in toxic tort suits, advises the city on compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, and deals with natural gas permitting. Goodrich says that representing a major city can be demanding. “We are sometimes the staunch enforcers of environmental regulations, and other times we’re on the defensive, handling the city’s management of garbage and wastewater,” she explains. “But at the end of the day, we’re trying to protect the city’s best interests, both financially and environmentally.” In your job search, consider that many local environmental agencies do not have the resources to keep attorneys on staff and instead contract out for legal services. There can be, however, opportunities to perform local government work as a consultant. 

Like at the state level, many municipal governments are taking on cutting edge climate change projects. Just a few of these programs are the Boston Climate Action Program, the PlaNYC Climate Change Initiative, and the San Francisco Carbon Fund. Climate change programs are usually created by executive order of the mayor, by municipal ordinance, or by local Departments of Environmental Protection. For attorneys interested in municipal and climate change law, these initiatives offer promising career options. 


As governments negotiate more agreements, more opportunities for international environmental lawyers arise. These lawyers participate in treaty negotiations, develop environmental laws, and litigate before international tribunals. International environmental law work can be found domestically in government agencies like the Department of State and the EPA. At the international level, Treaty Secretariats hire lawyers to administer agreements like the Montreal Protocol and the Basel Convention. Environmental lawyers also advise bodies of the United Nations, like the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) or Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Keep in mind that UN attorney hires usually have outstanding international public policy experience; it can be extremely difficult to find entry-level international environmental work. 

Nonprofit Organizations

A substantial amount of environmental advocacy is conducted by nonprofit organizations. To achieve their goals, these organizations engage in a wide range of legal work, from impact litigation to legislative advocacy to public education and community organizing. 

The advantages of working for a nonprofit include strong training, a relaxed office culture, and enough flexibility in scheduling to achieve a work-life balance. Perhaps the greatest advantage is the reward of advancing the public good. The testimony of nonprofit environmental attorneys speaks for itself: Gavin Kearney, formerly Director of the Environmental Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, comments, “I get to be on the ‘right’ side—the environmentalist side—of every case, every time.” And Howard Learner ’80, Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, echoes these sentiments. “I wanted to make a difference in the world, and to work on cases that reflect my values and interests. This work is vital to the legacy of ecological health for future generations.” 

Because nonprofits are leanly staffed and mission-driven, attorneys can choose their own cases. A small office also means that nonprofit attorneys apply many advocacy strategies to a diversity of issues.

A disadvantage of working for a nonprofit organization is limited resources. In environmental litigation and lobbying, this can be an obstacle to achieving a victory. “We’re always underfunded,” remarks Jill Witkowski, “And the other side knows it. Our opponents […] try to flood us with documentation requests we can’t afford to handle.” Before students enter nonprofit environmental work, Howard Learner ’80 recommends that they consider if they have the perseverance to advocate with limited resources against powerful forces. “In my cases, there are 30 attorneys for various polluting interests against two public interest attorneys,” he says. “On the nonprofit side, you have to work smarter, harder, and more creatively to overcome the much greater resources that our opponents in the private sector tend to have.” Of course, nonprofit jobs also offer lower salaries than most for-profit or government work. 

Environmental advocacy organizations can be broadly categorized as either litigation or policy oriented. Many organizations, of course, employ both strategies. While some organizations, such as Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), focus exclusively on environmental issues, others, such as New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, carry out work in other areas, as well. 

Litigation-Oriented Nonprofits

Litigation-oriented environmental nonprofits work to bring about lasting changes in the law through individual cases that present significant legal questions or hold the potential for systemic reform. Rather than representing individual clients, these organizations represent their membership, other non-litigating environmental groups, or plaintiffs that the groups identify as appropriate litigants. “I get to cherry pick the most interesting, challenging cases that I believe will have the greatest impact. We want cases that solve the biggest environmental problems, not that bring the most money through the door,” says Dale Bryk ’93, formerly a Senior Attorney at NRDC.

Many nonprofits integrate litigation into wider, broad-based advocacy campaigns that also involve media, lobbying, and public education. 

Policy-Oriented Nonprofits

Policy-oriented nonprofits primarily pursue non-litigation strategies to achieve their environmental goals. These organizations might produce research and policy recommendations, campaign for candidates with environmental agendas, mobilize companies and community groups, or promote environmentally friendly policies in the legislature. They may also lobby legislatures and government agencies to reform existing environmental laws (usually to require more stringent standards) and advocate for the passage of new laws to tackle developing issues. 

Private Public Interest Law Firms (PPILF)

There are a limited number of small private law firms that handle affirmative environmental cases. Like nonprofits, these firms are mission-driven and pursue cases that advance their vision of environmental change. Unlike nonprofits, however, these firms are for-profit businesses. They typically finance their practices with contingency fees and attorney’s fees from successful lawsuits, or follow a traditional billable hours fee structure. Although some firms dedicate their practices solely to environmental law, most must handle other types of cases as well, in order to earn sufficient revenue. 

Many PPILF represent individual or class-action plaintiffs who are bringing suit against an institutional actor, like a corporation or the government. They usually focus on toxic tort cases, where the plaintiff sues a defendant responsible for environmental toxins in the air or water. Firms may also represent public interest clients like local civic groups and government agencies in other civil cases. For example, they might represent a nonprofit in a case challenging an environmental law, or a state’s environmental agency in a suit against a company responsible for dumping hazardous materials. Not all environmental firms litigate; many perform land use and zoning work for government clients. 

Allan Kanner ’79 founded Kanner & Whiteley, LLC, a PPILF with an environmental litigation practice. Kanner explains, “I like novel cases—the bigger the challenge, the better. My practice allows me to find that.” Kanner specializes in representing government and class action plaintiffs in actions against corporations, particularly oil companies. Kanner represented the state of Louisiana in connection with the Deepwater Horizon explosion, as well as the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in a case against Exxon Mobil. 

Working at a PPILF allows attorneys to reap many of the benefits of a firm career while maintaining a connection to a public interest mission. Advantages of firm work include high earning potential and the possibility of bonuses during profitable years. Firms also have better access to resources than nonprofits. The flipside, however, is that attorneys at firms must balance their public interest mission with fiscal goals; they often must take on non-environmental cases to keep the firm afloat or turn down clients with worthy but unprofitable environmental complaints. 

Finding a Job

Although a wide range of opportunities exist for environmental law practice in the public sector, the job search process demands aggressive research, planning, and networking. This section includes advice on finding a job and building the foundation for a successful career.

Build a Track Record

As Christopher Davis ’80 puts it, “Grow your credentials, credibility, and expertise.” Planning your law school activities with an eye towards your career goals will help you develop the necessary background for an environmental law career. 

Public interest employers look for several key elements in an applicant’s background. First, employers consider a demonstrated commitment to public interest work to be critically important. Employers want to see that you are invested in advancing the public good—not merely looking for an alternative to private sector work. “More important to me than substantive experience is previous public interest work. I’ve hired people with civil rights experience, but no environmental experience. Environmental work is social justice work,” says Nancy Marks ’83

Second, many employers look for a demonstrated interest in environmental law. Tom Benson ’04 remarks, “When my colleagues look at a resume, they ask: ‘how has this applicant shown that she is interested in the environment?’” Plan your law school curriculum to include environmental law and related courses such as administrative law, constitutional law, and federal courts. Note that some courses that may appear unrelated upon first glance may in fact provide useful substantive knowledge; for example, many environmental litigators recommend that students take Corporations in order to better understand the structure and legal constraints of their frequent opponents. For energy work, David Littell ’92 suggests that students cross-register in statistics or econometrics courses at other Harvard schools. Be sure to take on environmental research projects whenever possible—in class, with professors, or even with local environment groups. 

Extracurricular activities can be an excellent way to show a strong interest in environmental law while meeting other students who share your interest. At HLS, the Environmental Law Society (ELS) offers a variety of events, speakers, and social opportunities, while the Environmental Law Review (ELR) allows students to assist in the publication of original scholarship in the field.

Perhaps most importantly, expose yourself to different types of environmental law practice in a variety of settings through summer internships, clinics, and volunteering. Matthew Littleton ’10 advises: “Do as many internships and off-campus clinical activities as possible. You can learn a lot about what you want to do by immersing yourself in different work environments, even if only for a short period of time. Be aggressive in pursuing those opportunities, and be flexible on hours, credit, and pay to the extent possible.” 

Substantive experience can help set you apart from other applicants. Elizabeth Forsyth ’11 says, “This is a small field, and it’s immensely competitive. […] I was able to find my position, at least in part, because there’s nothing on my resume that doesn’t say ‘environmental’ in it.” In addition to building your credentials, internships and other work experiences will broaden your professional network. 

Of course, environmental public interest employers also look for all of the usual qualifications expected from applicants in any field of law – meaning strong analytical, writing, and research skills are essential. 


As with many public interest jobs, networking is key to finding positions in environmental law. To learn about opportunities, you must diligently pursue and maintain contacts in the field. As Allan Kanner ’79 recommends: “Get yourself into the information loop. Find out who’s who in the field. It’s small world, so it’s important to network. We’re more likely to hire or work with someone when they know about us and we know about them.” 

Howard Learner ’80 says that networking is vital to setting yourself apart from other applicants. “We get hundreds of resumes for every job opening, and we can’t possibly read them all,” he explains. “If I get a call from a colleague who I trust, and he or she recommends that I look at your resume, then you have an advantage.” 

Seize every possible opportunity for networking during your law school career: develop and maintain contacts through your internships, clinics, and volunteer projects, and spend as much time as possible talking to people at environmental organizations. Networking can happen within the HLS community, too—your fellow students are often terrific sources of advice about internships and will help you make the most of your interactions with like-minded environmental enthusiasts. Get to know your professors and the staff of the Environment and Energy Law Program as well as possible; they are not only expert teachers but also seminal scholars in their fields. They likely know other key players who may be able to help you in the future. 

HLS alumni hold a wide variety of positions in environmental law practice; harnessing this built- in network through OPIA is a useful way to learn more about the field.

You can also meet practicing attorneys through bar association committees. Many associations host both networking and practice-oriented events. Examples of relevant committees include: 

Where the Jobs Are

Entry-Level Hiring

There are numerous entry points to public interest environmental law work. Two of the most common are government Honors Programs and fellowships, which we discuss below. Some organizations conduct on-campus recruiting; others hire only from previous summer intern classes or offer fellowships with very early deadlines. 

Government Honors Programs

Because most agencies prefer to hire lawyers with several years of experience, government honors programs represent the chief hiring vehicle for entry-level attorneys at the state and federal level. Perhaps the most well-known post-graduate honors program is the DOJ Honors Program.

The following federal and state agencies engaged in environmental work have also offered Honors Programs in the past: 

  • Army Corps of Engineers 
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission 
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 
  • California Attorney General’s Office 
  • Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office 
  • Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office 
  • New York Attorney General’s Office 
  • Washington State Attorney General’s Office 
  • Oregon Attorney General’s Office 
  • New Jersey Attorney General’s Office 
  • Colorado Attorney General’s Office 
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency 
  • U.S. Department of Energy 
  • Environmental Protection Agency, Region 1 
  • Environmental Protection Agency, Region 3 
  • Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5 
  • Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9 
  • Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10 
  • Food and Drug Administration 
  • U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of the Solicitor 
  • U.S. Department of Transportation 

Fellowships offer excellent opportunities for entry-level attorneys to join the environmental law field. Generally speaking, there are three types of fellowships for which students may apply. 

First, government fellowships such as the Presidential Management Fellows Program offer an avenue for entry-level attorneys to break into public policy positions. Second, advocacy organizations and private public interest law firms may fund their own fellowships to hire entry-level personnel for a specified period of time. Finally, third-party project-based fellowships such as the Equal Justice Works Fellowship offer financial sponsorship to new attorneys who wish to pursue particular projects in existing public interest organizations. HLS students should be sure to work with OPIA’s Fellowships Director, Judy Murciano, on all phases of any fellowship application. 

  • Government Fellowships

    Government fellowships are one way to launch an environmental law career. The Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF) is a prestigious two-year paid government fellowship sponsored by the Office of Personnel Management for graduates who want to work with a federal agency. Following a rigorous assessment process, fellows are selected and can then seek placements with agencies such as the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Defense. After the two-year fellowship, the fellows are generally offered full-time permanent positions with their agency. For those who would prefer to gain experience on the legislative side, the Progressive Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, and the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies all offer fellowships that expose recent graduates to a variety of policy areas.

    These federal opportunities are not the only government fellowships available, however. State legislative fellowships, such as the California Senate Fellows program, the New York State Senate graduate fellowships, and the Ohio Legislative Service Commission Fellowship, provide another point of access for those seeking careers in government. The two-year Capital City Fellows program in the District of Columbia hires 3Ls and recent graduates to work in a selection of local agencies.

  • Organization-Specific Fellowships

    Some advocacy organizations (e.g., the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Law and Policy Center, to name just a few) and private public interest law firms (e.g., Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger) also fund their own fellowships to hire entry-level personnel for time-limited positions. For a partial listing of organization-specific environmental fellowships, see the “Selected Fellowships” section of this guide. Be sure to regularly check OPIA’s jobs feed and the National Association for Law Placement’s public interest job search website, PSJD, for additional fellowship postings.

  • Third-Party Fellowships

    Third-party sponsored fellowships allow new attorneys to design their own public interest projects and carry them out at organizations that may not have the financial resources to pay a fellow themselves. Examples of third-party fellowships include the Skadden and Equal Justice Works fellowships. HLS students and alumni can also access the HLS Public Service Venture Fund; through a competitive process, the Fund provides both “seed money” for startup public interest ventures and salary support to graduating HLS students who hope to pursue post-graduate work at nonprofits or government agencies in the United States and abroad.

    Some third-party fellowships will not support traditional environmental law work, so be sure to check all relevant funding requirements before beginning the fellowship application process. For a partial listing of third-party fellowships, see the “Selected Fellowships” section of this guide.

Lateral Hiring

Government employers and advocacy organizations will seek similar skill sets in lateral hires as they do in entry-level attorneys; however, they will expect greater substantive experience from laterals. In general, especially in government agencies, there is not much turnover, so the demand for jobs typically exceeds the available supply. Therefore, it is critical to make your application stand out with relevant experience and great references. If your previous experience is in the private sector, distinguish yourself through pro bono cases and volunteer with a government agency or nonprofit in your free time. 

Although many applicants for lateral environmental law positions will have prior public sector experience, it is possible to make the switch from private sector law firm work to environmental public interest practice. David Littell ’92 successfully transitioned from private to public interest practice; he encourages lateral hopefuls to volunteer for progressive environmental work in order to demonstrate a continuing commitment to the field.

Personal Narratives

Note that all personal narratives in this Guide reflect titles that were current when the narratives were collected. 

  • Nancy Marks, HLS ’83
    Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council

    If someone had told me at age 24 that I would become a lawyer, I would have told them they were crazy. I had majored in geology as an undergraduate, spent a couple of summers at Woods Hole, and entered a Ph.D. program with the idea of becoming a marine geologist. After deciding that path was not for me, I had an M.S. in geology and no career aspirations. I considered a number of options, ranging from scientific journalism to carpentry. Deep down, though, I was seeking a way to turn my 1960s activist spirit into a job. As a young teenager, I had been angry and passionate about the Vietnam War, civil rights, and what we then called women’s liberation. Environmental issues were never at the top of my list of political concerns, but I was attracted to environmental advocacy because it would allow me to integrate my love of science with political action.

    When I started at Harvard Law School in 1980, the environmental offerings were paltry. I almost dropped out after one year, because I couldn’t envision how a law degree could translate into meaningful work. But I was fortunate to connect with the Conservation Law Foundation (a regional environmental advocacy organization headquartered in Boston) as a 2L, and I worked there as an intern over the next two years. The lawyers there were stopping offshore oil leasing, battling pollution, and saving forests, and I was hooked. After law school, I spent one year as a legal fellow for the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco and two years as a Massachusetts assistant attorney general in the environmental protection division. I learned to my surprise that I actually thrived as a litigator, in spite of my initial terror at any type of public speaking. When family life brought me to the New York area, I was lucky to land another position at NRDC as a litigator in its “citizen enforcement project.” That project—which was disbanded in 1994—focused almost exclusively on enforcing Clean Water Act discharge permits. But the cases were more varied than one might expect: one enforcement action against a Texaco oil refinery lasted for 19 years, requiring several trials and appeals to hold the refinery accountable for its pollution. (The moral of that story is that public interest lawyers have to be like pit bulls; once we latch on, you can never shake us off!)

    I am now a member of NRDC’s litigation team, a group of about a dozen lawyers, located in four of our offices, who specialize in litigation, rather than a particular substantive area. (Most other NRDC lawyers focus on a discrete set of issues, like energy, oceans, clean air, or endangered species.) Thirty years after becoming a lawyer, I am having the most fun of my career—because of the excellence and camaraderie of my team, the freedom to choose what cases to tackle, and the rewards of mentoring young litigators. I also love seeing a case go from the first development of the legal theory through motions, discovery, trials (occasionally), and appeals.

    My favorite cases typically involve a big, bad actor (industry or government); an intractable environmental problem; and feisty clients. In the past few years, I have helped to secure a cleanup of chromium from historical industrial operations in a working-class community in New Jersey; to challenge EPA’s registrations of pesticides that pose risks to human and ecological health; and to formulate legal strategies to target mold in New York City public housing. I am particularly drawn to environmental justice litigation and have learned that environmental advocacy is intimately bound up in the political, economic, and social concerns that moved me as a teenager.

    My advice for HLS students who are aspiring environmental advocates is to learn to be a great writer, a critical thinker, and a resourceful researcher. Those generic skills—combined with a demonstrated drive to serve the public good—will carry you far. At HLS, you now have an exciting array of academic and clinical choices, along with a vibrant environmental community, to help you on your path to a rewarding career.

  • David Littell, HLS ’92
    Commissioner, Maine Public Utilities Commission

    Environmental law allows me to combine my passion for being outside—I enjoy cross-country skiing, hiking, and swimming—with meaningful, intellectually challenging work. When I started at HLS in 1989, I took all of the environmental law classes available at the time (although there are much more offered now) and cross-registered at MIT for two environmental classes.

    When I graduated, my family in Maine and desire to be closer to the outdoors brought me to the firm of Pierce Atwood LLP, in Portland. I became a partner in 1999 with the environmental, permitting and litigation practice. There, I gained a thorough understanding of state and federal regulatory processes. Advising businesses on air, water, and waste law compliance, permitting large and small projects and representing companies in related litigation allowed me to understand the issues important to business and industry. I learned which protections cost businesses a lot and which protections might have big environmental gains at lower or no cost.

    In 2003, Governor John Baldacci nominated me to serve as the Deputy Commissioner, and then later as Commissioner, of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Governor Baldacci challenged DEP to keep our businesses profitable while making Maine a national model for state environmental protection. We adopted the toughest mercury emissions limit in the country—which all of our facilities have subsequently met. We passed the Electronics Waste Law, requiring computer manufacturers to take responsibility for end-of-life management of their products. We implemented a 54-point Climate Action Plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gas to 1990 levels by 2010 (we met it) and to 10 percent below those levels by 2020 (we’re already close). The DEP adopted habitat protections for Maine’s wetlands species, including wading birds, shorebirds, and waterfowl. We passed legislation to ensure that only cars with the most stringent emission standards could be sold in Maine. While I managed a department of 460 environmental professionals (including 14 rounds of budget cuts) and dealt with problem- solving, my other duties at DEP were policy-oriented; I frequently testified before the legislative committees, spoke out of state, testified to Congress and spoke at four official events at the Copenhagen Conference of Parties (COP) of the UNFCC in 2009.

    In 2010, I became the Commissioner of the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC), a regulatory body that oversees the state’s electricity, telecommunications, gas, and water industries. Here my work is more judicial than policy-oriented. There are three commissioners (myself included) who hear about 410 to 430 cases per year and release decisions. Our cases arise when utility companies file rate-making cases, competitive providers require approvals, safety standards are violated or companies seek certain certifications for transmission project or renewable energy certifications. Like any court, we hear testimony, hold hearings, and consider stipulations arising from negotiations of parties. We have an expert staff of engineers, lawyers, accountants, and other experts who help us make our decisions. This is one of the best parts of my job. I enjoy working with experienced and talented public servants who are committed to keeping Maine’s utilities fair for consumers and safe for the public.

    I’ve also been working in environmental policy at the regional level. I served as chairman of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and as RGGI’s vice-chair twice. I currently represent Maine on the Eastern Interconnect States Planning Committee (EISPC), where I chair a working group that is developing criteria to identify and map clean energy zones for onshore and offshore wind, tidal biomass, and geothermal resources. I have also chaired the New England Governors’ Committee on the Environment, the Environmental Council of the States Cross- Media Committee, and co-chaired the New England Governors’/Eastern Canadian Premiers Committee on the Environment. Environmental issues are not confined within state borders, and our initiatives shouldn’t be either. We need and are working towards regional cooperation to confront climate change.

    Maine is a small place. Building a solid reputation for honesty, acquiring good references, working hard and producing high-quality work are essential. As Commissioner at the DEP and the PUC, I worked long hours and tackled complex issues. I’ve never worked harder in my life and never achieved more for the public. I was lucky to be able to protect the environment and public health while creating and retaining thousands of jobs for Mainers through tough times. It’s rewarding to realize what you can do working with many others to make things happen that you would have thought frankly impossible, and it’s humbling to realize how many people it takes to make it happen. My career proves that good economic development and regulation works hand-in-hand with good environmental policies.

  • James Gignac, HLS ’04
    Environmental and Energy Counsel, Illinois Attorney General’s Office

    Mercury, coal ash, nuclear waste, distributed solar, shark fins… What do these seemingly random things have in common? Answer: all of these are things I worked during a day in the life serving as Environmental and Energy Counsel to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan! In my special counsel type role at the Attorney General’s Office, I either seek out or am tasked with all kinds of issues centered around environmental and energy law, policy, and regulation. Most of my time is spent researching, reading, working in meetings, and participating in conference calls. I have directed almost all of my attention toward policy, regulatory, and legislative matters instead of litigation—although I do coordinate closely with the environmental enforcement and public utility lawyers that do a lot of the core litigation work in our office.

    This arrangement suits me because I went to law school not necessarily to be a practicing attorney but to get professional training to allow me to work in the environmental field in various types of capacities. Previous to my current role, I worked for the Sierra Club helping to manage and coordinate the organization’s Beyond Coal Campaign. In addition to serving as a sort of in-house counsel, I was also able to develop experience in management, fundraising, communications, and organizing activities. Prior to Sierra Club, I spent close to three years doing general environmental litigation, regulatory, and transactional work at a private firm here in Chicago, working on a wide variety of matters for all sorts of industrial and other types of private sector clients.

    My interests and career arc have led me to focus on developing and marketing my versatility in terms of skill-set, experience, and knowledge. Many other environmental and energy attorneys end up choosing to focus on specific, technical areas where they can develop the necessary expertise to be at the top of the field in that area. Examples include lawyers who spend almost all of their time on Clean Air Act issues or perhaps have dockets dominated by energy efficiency issues. I have shied away from being channeled into a specific environmental or energy specialty and have instead tried to become a multi-faceted generalist that might someday step into an executive director type of role in non-profit or government or perhaps be a chief policy advisor for a progressive company or foundation.

    In terms of advice, many lawyers that work in the environmental field are there because something resonates with them personally about saving the world, working in a scientific or technical area, etc. So if you are a student interested in the field, make sure you have items on your resume and a personal story that conveys your passion or commitment to the environmental and energy fields. This will help you connect with the people deciding whether to hire you! An additional piece of advice is to relentlessly focus on what excites you and motivates you and never stop pursuing it. How important is it to you to perceive impact and meaning from your work? Do you get fired up doing litigation or do you quickly grow weary of it? Who is doing the kind of work you want to do and how can you obtain opportunities to work with them? The big, active issues today all seem to revolve around energy (i.e., the explosive growth in U.S. oil and gas development, the steady expansion of renewables, the gradual evolution of electric utilities to the smart grid era, etc.).

  • Howard A. Learner, HLS ’80
    Founding Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

    My public interest law career has spanned housing civil rights law, environmental and energy litigation, transportation reform and innovative economic development strategies. The unifying approaches have been strategically focused litigation as necessary and important to help advance social change and economic justice, and working on developing positive solutions that achieve environmental progress and economic growth together. At the Environmental Law & Policy Center, we put that sustainability principle into action. Moreover, with entrepreneurial public interest colleagues, I’ve worked to create and build several new public interest consumer, energy, environmental and legal organizations that fill gaps and meet advocacy infrastructure needs.

    I’ve had the opportunity as a public interest attorney to work on some of the most interesting, challenging and important public issues with dedicated colleagues and clients who share a commitment to making a difference in the world. Following HLS graduation, I worked as a Staff Attorney and later became the General Counsel of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI), a public interest law center in Chicago, my hometown. My initial focus was on housing civil rights and community economic development issues, engaging in federal court litigation and proactive policy development and advocacy. I also began representing Illinois environmental organizations at a time when there were no environmental law organizations in the state, and we began to break new ground on toxic pollution reduction and energy efficiency issues. With diverse partners, we created the Illinois Citizens Utility Board, a consumer-ratepayer advocacy group, for which I served as the first Board Chair leading the start- up and helping build this new consumer organization from scratch.

    With BPI colleagues, we commenced litigation challenging Commonwealth Edison’s costly and overextended nuclear power plant construction program. I served as the lead attorney for a coalition of Illinois consumer organizations and government agencies in successfully litigating four major cases before the Illinois Supreme Court reversing the Illinois public utilities regulatory commission’s rate hike decisions. Following those victories, we then negotiated comprehensive settlements with Commonwealth Edison that produced more than $2 billion of refunds – then the largest ever in the U.S. It was a classic “David and Goliath” battle – a small group of public interest attorneys took on the most powerful business and largest law firms in Chicago, and we won. Our suggested solution of advancing cleaner and cheaper energy efficiency and renewable energy resources was ahead of its time.

    In the early 1990’s, several environmental advocates and foundations identified a gap and the need to create a new Midwest-based public interest environmental legal advocacy group to focus on cleaning up and reforming the energy and transportation sectors, which account for 70% of the greenhouse pollution causing climate change and most of the pollution harming the Great Lakes. I was asked to develop a strategic plan and then became the Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), a ground floor start-up. We built the organization around the dual strategies of hard-hitting, effective strategic litigation and policy advocacy combined with putting into practice sustainable development principles and environmental solutions. Sometimes it takes a lawsuit to achieve change; other times, it takes a business suit.

    ELPC’s multidisciplinary staff of attorneys, M.B.A.s, policy advocates, communications professionals and scientists can forge win-win-win clean energy and clean transportation solutions that are good for job creation, good for economic growth and good for the environment. We’ve grown from a start-up to almost 50 dedicated staff in eight offices in Chicago, other Midwestern cities and Washington D.C. ELPC celebrated our 20th Anniversary of proud successes protecting the Midwest’s environment and natural heritage in April 2013. See to learn more.

    My job has evolved as ELPC has grown, and my strategic organizational leadership responsibilities have increased. I still take on some major litigation issues (with strong second chairs) because it’s in my attorney DNA and unifies my work more with our program staff.

    I’ve been moving full speed ahead as a public interest attorney since graduating from HLS about 33 years ago. It’s an honor. I’ve learned much and enjoyed working together with dedicated colleagues on some of the most important environmental and transformational clean energy challenges of our times. Message to today’s HLS students: Use your legal training to make a difference in our world. Carpé diem!

Selected Organizations (By Practice Setting)

A great way to explore careers in public interest environmental law is to read about organizations that hire attorneys. This section provides a list of selected environmental law organizations. We divide these organizations into three categories—nonprofits, private public interest law firms, and government. 


Private Public Interest Law Firms


Selected Fellowships

  • Fellowships

    Altshuler Berzon/NRDC Environmental Fellowship
    The fellow’s time is spent working on cases brought jointly by NRDC and Altshuler Berzon to enforce federal and state environmental statutes in the areas of water law and public health and safety, including cases brought under Proposition 65, California’s innovative anti-toxics law restricting contamination in consumer products, drinking water, the workplace, and the environment.

    American Rivers, Anthony Lapham River Conservation Fellow
    The Anthony A. Lapham River Conservation Fellowship at American Rivers provides an excellent professional development opportunity for talented post-graduates pursuing careers as leaders in the field of conservation advocacy. Recent graduate degree (MA/MS/PhD/JD/MBA) recipients will focus on an applied research project that will make a tangible contribution to American Rivers’ mission.

    American-Scandinavian Foundation, Inger and Jens Bruun Fellowship
    The American-Scandinavian Foundation (ASF) offers year-long fellowships of up to $23,000 and short term (1-3 months) fellowships of up to $5,000 to graduate students (preferably conducting dissertation research) and academic professionals interested in pursuing research or creative-arts projects in the Nordic region (Denmark, Greenland, Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sámpi, and Sweden).

    Bayou City Waterkeeper
    The Legal Fellow will report directly to our Legal Director and support our ongoing legal work and related advocacy, helping us use bold action to advance water, climate, and infrastructure justice across greater Houston. The Legal Fellow will join our team for a two-year term. This is intended as an entry-level position, but lawyers with any level of experience are welcome to apply. The Fellow will receive hands-on legal work and related advocacy experience, as well as regular feedback, mentoring, and training.

    California Sea Grant State Fellowship Program 
    The program provides a unique educational opportunity for graduate students interested both in marine resources and the policy decisions affecting these resources. The Program matches highly motivated and qualified graduate students with hosts in the California State Legislature or in State agencies for a nine-month Fellowship in Sacramento.

    Conservation Law Center Nancy C. Ralston Fellowship
    The Ralston Fellow’s work will cover a broad spectrum of responsibilities including litigation-related research, land protection transactions, advising conservation clients, policy analysis, and outreach. Other aspects regarding the operation of the Center, including working with students in the Conservation Law Clinic, will also be expected. Fellows can expect to develop their skills as attorneys, improve their abilities as environmental advocates, and leave the Center with valuable experience in a highly competitive field.

    Crag Law Center Fellowship 
    Through our Legal Fellow Program, we provide on-the ground legal experience in public interest environmental law to new attorneys and provide livable wages and benefits to ensure they have the personal resources needed to start their careers. We focus on developing the leadership of individuals from diverse backgrounds who demonstrate a passion for justice and a desire to pursue a career in public interest environmental work. By investing in a diverse team, we bring creative and innovative solutions to our clients and the environmental movement as a whole.

    David C. Lincoln Fellowship in Land Value Taxation 
    Fellowship projects may address either the basic theory of land value taxation or its application to specific issues, domestic or international, with an emphasis on specific investigations, case studies and theoretical work rather than on general discussions of land value taxation principles. The research may deal with land value taxation from the perspective of economic analysis, legal theory and practice, political science, administrative feasibility, valuation techniques, or other approaches in order to achieve a better understanding of land value taxation as a component of fiscal systems. Fellows will each present a seminar at the Lincoln Institute and attend a symposium with other Fellows.

    Postdoctoral Fellowship in Sustainable Development, Earth Institute, Columbia University
    The Earth Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship program provides scholars with the opportunity to acquire the cross-disciplinary expertise and breadth needed to address critical issues in the field of sustainable development such as food security, energy systems, climate change impacts, poverty reduction, disease, and environmental degradation.

    Earthjustice Associate Attorney Positions
    The day to day work of an Earthjustice associate attorney varies depending on the specific team to which they belong and their experience level. That work includes legal research and writing, developing facts, commenting on regulatory actions, interacting with clients, conducting discovery, working with expert witnesses, preparing for and participating in evidentiary hearings, drafting motions and briefs, and presenting legal arguments in court. Associates also work with our communications strategists and lobbying teams.

    Emmett/Frankel Fellowship in Environmental Law and Policy
    The Fellow will further the work of the Frankel Program by pursuing research on issues relating to environmental law and policy and generating policy-oriented written work to be published through the Frankel Program as well as in other venues. The Fellow will also assist the Center’s Executive Director with other projects and will co-teach the Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic each of the four semesters of the Fellowship in conjunction with a faculty member.

    Emory Law School, Turner Environmental Law Clinic Fellowship
    The Turner Environmental Law Clinic offers a two-year fellowship, attracting incredible attorneys from across the United States. Fellows engage in teaching, legal work, and research, and go on to impactful careers in environmental law. Past fellows can be found working at the Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Environmental Law Center, Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, and Trustees for Alaska.

    Environmental Defense Fund Fellowship Program
    EDF offers internships and fellowships for students and recent graduates in a variety of programs and departments throughout the organization.

    Equal Justice Works Fellowships
    Fellows design unique projects that serve and address a range of legal issues including domestic violence, homelessness, community economic development, immigration, civil rights, juvenile justice, employment rights, health care, consumer fraud, and environmental justice. Equal Justice Works then matches the fellow with sponsors to support their projects.

    Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment Research Fellowship
    The Fellow will spend one or two semesters in residence at the University of Colorado School of Law working on one or more research projects on oil and gas, minerals, energy, public lands, water resources or other areas of natural resource law and policy. The emphasis is on legal research, but applicants from law-related disciplines, such as economics, engineering and the natural and social sciences, as well as lawyers, are invited to apply.

    Glynn D. Key Fellowship Program – Southern Environmental Law Center
    SELC has created a special fellowship program for law students and practicing attorneys who have a strong interest in or a demonstrated commitment to working to advance environmental justice. Our Glynn D. Key Fellowship program includes an associate attorney fellowship and a summer intern fellowship.

    Greenlining Institute Legal Fellowship
    The Fellowship is an 11-month professional development program for emerging social justice leaders taking the lead on race equity work and advocating for change on a systemic level. Fellows are assigned to specific policy teams and hone their expertise by working with Greenlining staff on critical issues impacting our communities.

    Harvard Law School, Environmental and Energy Law Program (EELP), EELP Legal Fellow
    The Fellow will work on current projects, and develop new projects, both independently and collaboratively with EELP colleagues, to provide rigorous legal analysis to advance deep decarbonization and protect public health and the environment.

    Lewis & Clark Law School, Earthrise Law Center, Founders’ Legacy Fellowship
    Over their two years with Earthrise, legal fellows are treated as first year associates— developing their own cases while simultaneously working with senior attorneys to gain valuable experience at the beginning of their careers. This fellowship helps ensure that recent law school graduates have the opportunity to get a jumpstart on their careers as environmental advocates.

    Marine Affairs Institute/Rhode Island Sea Grant Legal Program, Aquaculture Research Attorney
    The Marine Affairs Institute/Rhode Island Sea Grant Legal Program prepares law students to enter the exciting field of ocean and coastal law and policy by providing them with strong academic credentials and practical experiences that help them be practice-ready upon graduation.

    Maryland Sea Grant Law and Policy Fellowship
    Maryland Sea Grant (MDSG) and the Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI) are excited to invite applications for a one-year legal fellowship. The primary effort of the fellow is to provide legal research, writing, and educational assistance to ALEI and MDSG. Fellows conduct legal scholarship and provide education for government agencies, coastal industries, and coastal communities addressing coastal law and policy in Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay with an emphasis on reaching underserved populations.

    Fellowships, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
    Fellows work in an office of the NRDC and will focus on one of NRDC’s eight program areas, depending on the need of the organization, with extensive opportunities to learn about other program areas.

    NYU School of Law State Energy & Environmental Impact Center Fellows, Environmental Protection Bureau, Office of the New York State Attorney General (OAG)
    The Fellows serve as Special Assistant Attorneys General (Special Assistants) in the bureau in New York City or Albany. The Special Assistants work with OAG staff on environmental justice, clean energy, climate change and other environmental matters. As Special Assistants, the fellows are supervised by the OAG and owe a duty of loyalty to the State of New York as their client.

    Public Service Venture Fund Fellowship, Harvard Law School
    The Public Service Venture Fund awards $1 million in grants every year to Harvard Law graduates pursuing careers in public service. The fund offers “seed money” for startup nonprofit ventures to students and alumni and salary support to graduating J.D. students and judicial law clerks for postgraduate work at nonprofit or government agencies in the United States and abroad.

    Ralph Menapace Fellowship in Urban Land Use Law
    Fellows will acquire firsthand experience in legislation, litigation and practice before New York’s regulatory bodies. Practice areas include urban land use and zoning law, historic preservation law and environmental law.

    Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy Teaching Fellowship, UCLA School of Law
    The fellowship involves law teaching, legal and policy research and writing, preparing to go on the law teaching market, and assisting with organizing projects such as conferences and workshops.

    Sabin Center Fellowship
    The incumbent will work on a wide variety of research and writing projects concerning climate change mitigation and adaptation, including issues of justice and equity in those contexts; contribute to programs and projects that engage in active law and policy contexts; help organize conferences, seminars, and collaborative publications; contribute to conceptualization, management and implementation of the Center’s web resources; and assist with oversight of interns and volunteers, among other projects.

    Save the Sounds, Peter B. Cooper Legal Fellow
    The job will involve legal writing and advocacy before administrative agencies, state and federal courts, and the legislature. This advocacy may combine litigation with coalition building on a variety of issues, including protecting Long Island Sound, rivers, lakes, and great spaces, as well as work on energy and climate. The position may also involve working with senior counsel to supervise interns and students in the UConn Law School Environmental Law Clinic.

    Sea Grant, Knauss Fellowship
    The Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship provides a unique educational and professional experience to graduate students who have an interest in ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources and in the national policy decisions affecting those resources. The Fellowship, named after one of Sea Grant’s founders and former NOAA Administrator John A. Knauss, matches highly qualified graduate students with “hosts” in the legislative and executive branch of government located in the Washington, D.C. area, for a one-year paid fellowship.

    Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger Fellowship
    This firm specializes in environmental and land use law and represents environmental and community groups and governmental agencies. Fellows function as junior associates. Responsibilities include conducting research, writing briefs and appearing in court.

    Sierra Club Fellowship (& Associate Attorney)
    Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program (ELP) has perfected the art of campaign litigation and “lawyer-organizing.” Our team of top-notch attorneys and legal staff leverages all of the Club’s tools of democracy, integrating legal advocacy with grassroots organizing, sophisticated communications, a state-of-the-art digital strategies team, and administrative lobbying.

    Skadden Fellowship
    The Skadden Foundation allows Fellows to create their own projects at public interest organizations with at least two lawyers on staff. The aim of the foundation is to give Fellows the freedom to pursue public interest work; providing legal services to the poor, the elderly, the homeless and the disabled, as well as those deprived of their civil or human rights.

    Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) Associate Attorney Program
    SELC’s Associate Attorney positions are open to third-year law students, recent law graduates, attorneys completing clerkships and practicing attorneys. Our Associate Attorneys work with more senior attorneys on litigation and legal advocacy in state and federal courts and before regulatory agencies. They are exposed to multiple practice areas, and responsibilities include not just complex legal research and writing, but also taking part in the legal proceedings and advocacy activities in which SELC is involved and participating in strategy formulation with partners and clients.

    Switzer New England/California Fellowship Program
    Fellowships are available for highly talented graduate students in New England and California whose studies are directed toward improving the quality of our natural environment. In the past, awards have been made to students pursuing policy studies, economics, engineering and law as well as those pursuing the more traditional sciences: biology, chemistry and physics.

    University of Chicago Law School, Abrams Environmental Law Clinic, Fellow
    Under supervision of the Clinic’s Director, the successful candidate will help to train and supervise students, teach the clinic’s seminar component, develop potential projects, assist in publicizing the clinic’s cases and activities, and organize and coordinating relevant events, lectures and other clinic activities. One goal of this Fellowship is to train aspiring clinical teachers and public interest environmental attorneys.

    University of Denver, Environmental Law Clinic, Christopher N. Lasch Clinical Teaching Fellow
    Student attorneys in clinic have the opportunity to provide representation to national, regional, local, and tribal environmental advocacy organizations. The clinic’s hands-on approach to representation of clients, combined with individualized supervision and instruction, trains students to be the next generation of environmental lawyers and advocates. In addition to developing the strong advocacy skills necessary to succeed as a lawyer, students also learn to identify and pursue policy issues that will shape the future of environmental protection.

    University of Florida Center for Coastal Solutions / Florida Sea Grant Coastal Policy Analyst Fellowship
    The Florida Sea Grant CSS Analyst Fellow position is designed to provide a recent graduate or early career professional an opportunity to acquire experience in researching, developing, and implementing coastal and marine policy in Florida and beyond. In particular, the selected analyst will develop interdisciplinary skills working with scientists and policy professionals at the forefront of the marine and coastal science-policy interface, with an emphasis on proactively addressing water quality hazards such as harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the marine and coastal environment.

  • Government Honors Programs

    California Attorney General’s Honors Program
    The Attorney General’s Office employs attorneys in a wide variety of legal subject areas including but not limited to consumer, antitrust, environment, business and tax, criminal and civil rights. Honors attorneys will have the opportunity to work with these experts, including working on matters of public interest and importance.

    Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 Honors Attorney Fellowships 
    Attorneys are responsible for preparing administrative, judicial and criminal cases against violators of environmental laws. These cases involve developing and using technical and legal strategies for negotiation and litigation purposes. The primary statutes enforced by the EPA are the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (Superfund) and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. For cases brought in federal court, attorneys work with the Department of Justice, but solely represent the Agency in administrative proceedings.

    Colorado Attorney General Fellowship Program
    As a fellow at the DOL, you will have the opportunity to develop as a lawyer by working on exciting (and sometimes novel) legal matters; drafting memoranda, briefs, and pleadings; and working collaboratively with other lawyers in the section. You will be provided with feedback on your work and be given opportunities for mentorship and networking internally and externally. In addition, as part of the program, all Fellows participate in 6-month professionalism series and have the opportunity to earn a Certificate of Trial Advocacy by completing the Colorado Trial Advocacy Program. Fellows may also earn free CLE credits through the DOL, CBA, and PLI and may volunteer on office-wide impact teams.

    Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 Honors Attorney Fellowship 
    The fellowship provides an opportunity for entry-level attorneys to practice law in a leading government environmental organization, and to receive extensive training in and exposure to environmental law and policy work in the public sector. Region 5 offers Honors Attorneys significant responsibility, the opportunity to handle a varied caseload that includes enforcement and counseling work, and extensive training and mentoring from dedicated colleagues with recognized expertise.

    Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Honor Law Graduate Program
    As an Honor Law Graduate, you will serve in a two-year program consisting of rotational assignments through different OGC divisions in order to gain broad exposure to the diverse legal practice at the NRC.

    Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office Fellowship
    Fellows receive training and guidance from experienced attorneys to enhance proficiency and develop skills. Through the Fellowship Program, new attorneys will launch their legal careers by enriching their legal experience, broadening their exposure to the public sector, and assuming substantial individual responsibility for their work. Selected fellows will explore and gain experience in a variety of practice areas over the course of the two-year fellowship. Fellows generally complete three rotations through different areas of the office.

    Oregon Attorney General’s Honors Program
    Honors Attorneys typically rotate from one division to another, including environmental law, enabling them to obtain a breadth of experience in diverse areas of the law and with colleagues from different divisions in the office.

    Michael F. Vaccaro Honors Attorney Fellowship, Environmental Protection Agency, Region 3
    The Michael F. Vaccaro Honors Attorney Fellowship provides a unique opportunity to practice law in a major governmental environmental organization, and to receive extensive training in and exposure to environmental law and policy work in the public sector.

    Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 Honors Attorney Fellowship
    The Office of Regional Counsel is responsible for preparing administrative, judicial, and criminal cases against violators of environmental laws. These cases require the development and use of technical and legal strategies for negotiation and litigation. The primary statutes enforced by EPA are the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund), and Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

    Washington, DC Metro Area 
    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Headquarters Fellowships
    EPA internships, fellowships, and recent graduate positions provide a great introduction to our work and may lead to permanent employment. These opportunities are available at our Washington D.C. headquarters, in our ten regional offices, and at our labs and research centers throughout the nation.

    Food and Drug Administration Entry-Level Attorney
    Attorneys in the Office of Chief Counsel advise the FDA on legal matters and represent the agency in court proceedings and in administrative hearings. They participate in both civil and criminal cases; draft pleadings, motions and briefs; and participate in discovery and trials. Lawyers also serve as counselors to the major programs of the agency: drugs, foods, biologics, devices, veterinary products, tobacco products, and enforcement.

    Nuclear Regulatory Commission Honors Law Graduate Program
    The fellow will participate in administrative litigation involving nuclear power plants, reviewing environmental impact statements with technical staff, draft proposed regulations for new or revised safety standards, assist in the review and litigation of personnel actions, equal employment opportunity cases, and Government contract matters, and work with the Solicitor in researching and preparing briefs for submission to the Federal courts of appeals.

    US Department of Energy Honors Program
    DOE Honors Attorneys are assigned to individual Assistant General Counsel (AGC) offices for rotations of 4-6 months. AGC offices offer a wide variety of legal practice areas including environmental law, legislation and regulation, litigation and enforcement, international law, procurement, intellectual property and others.

    US Department of the Interior Office of the Solicitor Honors Program
    The Nation’s principal natural resources conservation and management agency, the Office of the Solicitor includes 100 attorneys in Washington, D.C. and 150 in twenty field and regional offices across the country. During their first year Honors Program Attorneys spend several weeks working in each of the major subject matter areas in Washington: The Division of Conservation and Wildlife Energy and Resources, General Law, Indian Affairs and Surface Mining. At the end of that year, each attorney is permanently assigned to one of these divisions or to one of the regional or field offices.

    US Department of Justice Attorney General Honor’s Program
    Entry-level attorneys at DOJ are hired through the Attorney General’s Honors Program. Attorneys are hired by specific DOJ Components, including the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

    Various Locations 
    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Attorney Honors Program
    The NOAA GC Attorney Honors Program is an exciting employment opportunity for entry level attorneys and a pathway to career employment at NOAA GC. Through the Attorney Honors Program, you will work with other NOAA attorneys and staff to advise the NOAA Administrator and NOAA program offices on the legal aspects of NOAA’s mission. NOAA attorneys work to advance that mission and provide sound judgment, thoughtful analysis, and constructive advice in a respectful, committed environment.

    Presidential Management Fellows Program
    The PMF Program attracts outstanding graduate, law, and doctoral-level students to the Federal service. The program places students in public policy and management positions. Typical placements for law students include policy analyst, budget analyst, tax law specialist, and other non-attorney positions. Emphasis is placed on challenging career opportunities and development, and employers offer seminars, briefings, conferences, and on-the-job training.

    US Army Corps of Engineers Chief Counsel’s Civilian Honors Program
    Attorneys in the Honors Program can choose to specialize in Environmental Law or General Litigation. Environmental Honors Attorneys support USACE’s regulatory program, the environmental restoration program, and the water resources development program. Environmental attorneys deal with environmental and resource statutes to ensure full compliance with all applicable federal and state environmental requirements during the construction, operation, and maintenance of USACE’s network of civil and military public works. In General Litigation, Honors Attorneys enforce the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, wetlands preservation and Fifth Amendment takings, among other statutes.

Job Search Resources

To find job openings in environmental law, visit the following websites: 

Environmental Resources

General Public Interest Resources

  • The Public Service Jobs Database (PSJD), hosted by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), is the leading database for public interest job listings. Narrow your search to “Environmental” or “Real Estate/Land Use” practice area under “Advanced Search.” 
  • is the official job site for the U.S. government. It provides a database for federal job listings that is searchable by location, agency, job title, and other criteria. Keep in mind that Department of Justice positions are not usually listed here; visit the DOJ Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management homepage for information about Honors and lateral hiring. 


Many thanks are due to the nearly thirty environmental and energy attorneys who were interviewed for this guide. The following individuals generously donated their time and thoughtful insights: Ona Balkus, Jeff Baran, Phil Barnett, Tom Benson, Eric Bilsky, Dale Bryk, Abigail Burger-Chingos, Brett Dakin, Christopher Davis, Elizabeth Forsyth, James Gignac, Devon Goodrich, Kristen Hite, Allan Kanner, Gavin Kearney, Howard Learner, David Littell, Matt Littleton, Nancy Marks, Miranda Massie, Molly McUsic, Larry Parkinson, Read Porter, Kevin Reuther, Staci Rubin, and Jill Witkowski. 

Special thanks to David Littell, Nancy Marks, Howard Learner, James Gignac and Matt Littleton for providing personal narratives. 

In writing this guide, we benefitted from the substantial expertise of the faculty of the Environmental Law Program (ELP) at Harvard Law School. Profound thanks are due to Kate Konschnik for her detailed proposals to update the 2006 version of this guide. We would also like to thank Shaun Goho, Jody Freeman, Wendy Jacobs, and Richard Lazarus. In addition, we drew information about the trajectory of U.S. environmental policy from a fantastic speaking event presented by ELP in July 2013, which featured EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. 

I would also like to thank Judy Murciano for her help editing the Fellowships section of this guide. Many thanks to Alexa Shabecoff and Joan Ruttenberg for pointing me in the direction of their colleagues, advisees, and friends working in environmental practice. Finally, much gratitude is owed to Catherine Pattanayak for her direction, mentorship, and diligent revisions. 

– Samantha Sokol, Summer Fellow