Environmental Lawyer Career Information

Discover what an environmental lawyer does. Learn about the education and skills required, in addition to the salary expectations and projected employment growth, to determine if this profession is for you.

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Career Definition of an Environmental Lawyer

Environmental laws regulate and define the activities of humans upon the geological and biological systems that are affected by contact. Issues such as ecology, sustainability, responsibility, and stewardship are often cause for legal actions.

Education 4-year bachelor's degree followed by 3-year law degree with focus in environmental law
Job Skills Persuasive, detail-oriented, thorough, and able to communicate verbally and in writing
Median Salary (2015)* $115,820 (for all lawyers)
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 6% increase (for all lawyers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

An environmental lawyer can expect to spend a minimum of seven years in post-secondary education before he or she is qualified to practice law. Because environment laws are complex and often contradictory, successful experience in trying legal cases related to the field is the best way to advance in the specialty. A career in environment law requires a bachelor's degree followed by three years of law school. The law school graduate must then successfully pass the state bar exam for the jurisdiction where he or she will be practicing law. Some states require further certification in order to specialize as an environmental lawyer.

Skills Required

Environment laws are a large and complex specialty within the practice of law. The successful environmental lawyer should be able to communicate effectively both orally and in written documents. The ability to persuade others to a specific point of view helps to win court cases, but the attorney also must be able to prepare and consolidate an abundance of details into an effective case.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the number of jobs for lawyers will grow 6% from 2014 to 2024, which is about as fast as the average occupation. The complexity of laws and regulations continues to grow, but the number of law school graduates is also increasing, so job competition is tight. The earnings of those who practice environmental law will vary according to where the practice is located and whether or not the attorney works for a large firm, a government entity or a small private practice. The BLS published the median annual earnings of all lawyers as $115,820 in May 2015.

Alternate Career Options

Other careers to consider in this field include:

Paralegal and Legal Assistant

Those interested in the law but wishing to enter a career more quickly might consider that of a paralegal or legal assistant. Students can qualify for work in this field by earning an associate's degree in paralegal studies, or a certificate for individuals who already have a bachelor's degree in another field. These professionals support lawyers by maintaining files, drafting documents and performing legal research. The BLS predicted 8% employment growth from 2014-2024 for paralegals and assistants, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Paralegals and legal assistants took home an annual median salary of $48,810, the BLS reported in 2015.

Postsecondary Environmental Science Teacher

Requiring a doctoral or professional degree, individuals who wish to teach students about environmental topics might choose this profession. Postsecondary teachers in general could expect 13% job growth from 2014-2024, according to the BLS. The annual median salary for environmental science teachers in particular was reported by the BLS in 2015 as $78,770.

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