Jill Tauber (HLS, 2005) never expected to be an environmental attorney. While she was committed to doing public interest work in her career, she started off focused on civil rights and had been working already on establishing a background around housing issues. It was her experience through Hurricane Katrina that deepened her curiosity about climate justice and led her down the path she is currently going down as an attorney with Earthjustice.
For the social justice advocate in Jill Tauber, the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau was a defining experience of law school. During the two years she spent there, she was inspired in her work providing direct legal services in housing and unemployment benefits cases. She also took classes with, and worked as a teaching assistant for, Professor Lani Guinier, who was influential in Jill’s study of and engagement with social justice issues. At that time, little did Jill know that she would eventually become an environmental lawyer, now holding the position of Managing Attorney of the Clean Energy Program at Earthjustice, a national nonprofit environmental law organization. Incidentally, she had never even taken a single environmental law course at HLS.
Jill’s current job, which she describes as “inspiring,” was not apparent as a career goal to her in law school, but she became increasingly passionate about combating climate change and protecting people’s right to a healthy environment during her Skadden Fellowship at Advancement Project, a national civil rights advocacy organization based in DC. During her two years at Advancement Project, she represented public housing residents in New Orleans who had to leave their homes when hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and were not permitted to return. “During my work in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, I started to better understand the impact of climate and energy injustice, and it made me realize that fighting for clean energy and healthy communities is a critical justice issue,” Jill says. At the end of her fellowship, she relocated to North Carolina and took the move as an opportunity to explore environmental work. While transitioning from one subject field into another, she says that it was invaluable to connect with an HLS alum who had worked at the Southern Environmental Law Center, where she got her first environmental law job. She says talking with the HLS alum and seeing how much she loved environmental law eased her nerves about entering into a new field. Because networking has been instrumental in her career in such ways, Jill is very encouraging of law students and young lawyers who want to reach out. “I receive emails often from students and recent grads, and I am always happy to talk with them about their career path,” she says, “I think it’s our obligation as public interest lawyers to help students and new lawyers.”
What enabled her transition into a completely new subject field were concrete lawyering skills she developed and a strong commitment to public interest. Right after HLS, Jill clerked in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California and completed a fellowship at Advancement Project, where she gained substantial experience in all aspects of litigation and advocacy. These proved to be solid transferable skills going into environmental law. And although she had not taken environmental law courses at HLS, she found classes like administrative law, as well as research and writing skills, to be applicable across a wide variety of subject fields. “Regardless of your experience working in a particular area of the law, a core foundation of legal skills, including writing, research and oral advocacy, is critical,” Jill says, “A commitment to the public interest is also an attractive quality to public interest employers, regardless of issue area.” She also advises attorneys looking to transition into a new subject area to expect and be prepared to answer questions during the interview process about why they want to make the switch.
Today, Jill works to advance clean energy across the country. Although her work days vary, a substantial part of her day-to-day job involves working on cases, including drafting briefs, preparing for hearings, etc., and providing management support. “I’m working alongside dedicated, talented and kind people every day,” Jill says, “We are trying to protect our communities and environment— I could not think of a better goal.” This idealism and social purpose is also accompanied by the realization that success doesn’t come easy. “We are often facing an uphill battle for clean energy and environmental protections, so that can be a challenge.” Despite this, Jill and her colleagues maintain their zeal and avoid burnout by building a supportive work environment. “Knowing that I work for an organization that is really supportive of its staff is important,” she says, “We’re all in this field because we are incredibly passionate about the work. It’s not unusual to have long days, but it’s important to try to seek balance, in part so we can keep up the fight.”