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Environmental Lawyer: Educational Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an environmental lawyer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and coursework to find out if this is the career for you.

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To become an environmental lawyer, you must graduate from law school and pass the bar exam, with some kind of specialization or further education in environmental law. There are employment opportunities for environmental lawyers in both the public and private sectors.

Essential Information

Environmental lawyers counsel governments, corporations and other organizations in matters that include public health, pollution or sustainability. Becoming an environmental lawyer requires completing a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree program at an accredited law school. Prospective environmental lawyers may also wish to further their knowledge by selecting a J.D. program that offers a specialization in environmental law, or by completing a Master of Laws program with an environmental law emphasis.

Required Education Completion of a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree program
Other Requirements Optional certification of specialization in environmental law through select J.D. programs; Master of Laws (LL.M.) program in environmental law also optional
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% (for all lawyers)
Median Salary (2015)* $115,820 annually (for all lawyers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Educational Requirements for Environmental Lawyers

All lawyers, regardless of their specialization, must graduate from a law school that is accredited by the American Bar Association. The traditional J.D. program in most law schools lasts three years, during which time students take courses in such areas as the constitution, property rights and torts. First-year classes typically cover fundamental concepts; some programs give students more leniency in designing their first-year schedule, while other programs have a more fixed set of requirements.

After completing their required courses, students may begin to take electives in environmental law. These electives delve into topics ranging from environmental agreements to energy law. For example, an environmental course may introduce students to the Clean Water Act and then go on to cover related, governmental regulatory agencies. Additionally, students may choose to participate in program-sponsored environmental law clinics that allow them to interact with environmentalists and other professionals.

J.D. Specializations

Some J.D. programs allow students to concurrently earn a certificate of specialization in environmental law. These certificates generally require the completion of about 15 credits in addition to some professional work experience. Coursework may explore topics such as coastal management or deforestation.

Master of Laws in Environmental Law

Law school graduates wishing to increase their knowledge and understanding of environmental law may consider enrolling in a 1-year Master of Laws (LL.M.) program in environmental law. Students who specialized in environmental law during law school may also consider earning this type of LL.M., so they can further specialize and enhance their employment opportunities.

These programs offer courses in a variety of topics, such as sustainable development or toxic substance regulation. Some programs may require students to complete a thesis, while others allow them to take additional courses instead.

Salary Info and Employment Outlook

As noted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary of lawyers, including environmental lawyers, was $115,820 as of May 2015. Employment of lawyers in general was predicted to grow 6% between 2014 and 2024, mainly due to the ongoing need for legal services (BLS).

Environmental lawyers advise in matters relating to the environment, sustainability, energy, and other topics, for corporations, the government, or even non-profits. An environmental lawyer must first complete a J.D. program at an accredited law school. They may specialize or pursue a Master's degree in environmental law, and there is average job growth predicted for all lawyers through the year 2024.

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