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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Environmental Lawyer

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 10, 2018 3:10 PM

You may love the outdoors -- until you get caught in a hailstorm.

Being an environmental lawyer can be like that, too. You may love it, but then there are those bad days.

Here are some pros and cons to consider if you are thinking about an environmental law practice. You can do it as long as you are prepared for the conditions.

Pro 1: Passion

Practicing environmental law takes passion, like save-the-planet passion. If you have it, then you are halfway there already.

You may find your calling at the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, or the National Park Service. A world of environmental groups, like the Sierra Club or the Surfrider Foundation, need lawyers, too.

Pro 2: Learning

Don't worry if you don't have an undergraduate degree in environmental engineering or earth sciences. Environmental law is a field of its own.

Some law schools offer courses, programs and clinics in environmental law. In "A Trail Guide to Careers in Environmental Law," Harvard Law School offers: "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."

Con 1: Corporations

While government and public interest groups have jobs for environmental lawyers, they typically do not pay as well as the corporate sector. That means you may end up working for the enemy to pay off those student loans.

It's not all that bad, especially because your main job should be to keep your corporate client in compliance with environmental regulations. Think of it as if you were saving Darth Vader from an ignominous death.

Con: 2: Paperwork

Regulatory work means a lot of paperwork. In private environmental practice, you can get lost in the trees that died to make paper.

Beth S. Gotthelf, who has an energy and sustainability practice, said filing the right documents is mission-critical. "There is a certain way you have to do things and certain records you have to keep, and that's just the way it is," she told U.S. News & World Report.

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