By Sebastian Miller, J.D. ’24
I came to law school knowing I wanted to practice environmental law. The funny thing about 1L year, though, is that you spend most of your time questioning everything you think you “know.” My chosen career path was not immune; the sheer vastness and diversity of opportunities presented to new law students is staggering. By the time I emerged from the haze of my last spring final I could hardly be sure which way was north, let alone be confident in my earlier ambitions.
Spending the summer at a government agency that specialized in land use and environmental law helped refocus my original purpose for attending law school. Yet, there was only so much that a ten-week internship could do to animate the concepts I spent the prior year reading about. I was hungry for more, for greater exposure to what practicing environmental law felt like.
The Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic gave me just that. Under the steadfast management of my project supervisor—and with more than a little help from my veteran project partner—my time with the clinic provided me with the necessary experiences that aided my growth as a legal thinker and practitioner. Through my work with the clinic, I gained new insight into the nuances of project-based legal research, and felt the thrill of applying my findings to real-world problems.
Perhaps most importantly however, the clinic gave me the opportunity to work directly with clients—something that had been missing in my prior summer experience. As a discipline often rooted in the enforcement of cumbersome federal statutes, environmental law can feel highly theoretical at times, divorced from real people in difficult situations. My clinic project showed me what it was like to be an advocate, to find the best possible routes through law and policy that would vindicate the goals of my client. Often, I was frustrated that I couldn’t give them better news. Though, every time my research produced a dead end, I felt myself striving all the more vigorously to find what could work. I relished each meeting, which I viewed as opportunities to give the clients real answers and solutions.
The lessons did not come without their challenges. If nothing else, environmental law is hard— the technical complexity of the Clean Water Act alone was humbling, to say nothing of its interactions with other state and federal laws. I spent more than a few weeks wondering if I was qualified to be advising anyone about anything, let alone provisions that I had only learned about a few days prior. But I discovered that through the crucible of those moments of doubt, I grew most as a researcher and advocate. I learned to use the robust resources provided by the clinic, to seek advice from others and shed my previously rigid approaches to my project’s unique problems.
My clinic experience is best summarized as growth through adversity. With each new frustration came a fresh opportunity to learn, and my supervisor was effective in both providing important advice and granting me the independence to confront each hurdle myself. I am grateful for what the clinic has taught me about how to be a better advocate for the environment, and a better lawyer.