How to Become an Environmental Attorney: Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become an environmental attorney. Learn about the job description and duties, and explore the step-by-step process to start a career as an environmental attorney.

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  • 0:00 Environmental Attorney…
  • 1:14 Earn an Undergraduate Degree
  • 2:13 Take the LSAT
  • 2:26 Graduate From Law School
  • 3:32 Take the Bar Exam
  • 4:09 Find Work & Consider an LL.M.

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Environmental Attorney Overview

Degree Level Juris Doctor (J.D.)
Licensure All states require licensure for lawyers
Key Skills Critical thinking, analytical reasoning, negotiation, research, and writing skills;
Salary $136,260 (2015 average for lawyers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Attorneys help individuals resolve legal problems. An attorney's job tasks may include researching laws, drafting legal documents, arguing a client's case before courts, and negotiating settlement terms. An environmental lawyer is an attorney who focuses his/her legal practice on handling environmental law issues.

Lawyers, including those who specialize in environmental law, work in office settings, though some travel may be required to meet with clients or, in the case of environmental cases, see sites in question. They generally work at least 40 hours per week or more as their workloads demand. Lawyers need a variety of skills, including critical thinking, analytical reasoning, negotiation skills, research and writing skills. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyers in general made a mean annual wage of $136,260 as of May 2015. However, many environmental lawyers work for non-profit organizations or other causes, which can lessen one's potential salary. Let's explore the step-by-step process to start a career as an environmental attorney.

Earn an Undergraduate Degree Program

A bachelor's degree is a general requirement for admission to law school is a bachelor's degree. While there is no specific undergraduate field of study required, many law students have undergraduate degrees in economics, government, or history. Aspiring environmental lawyers may benefit from completing a bachelor's degree program focusing on environmental policy or environmental science. These programs typically provide instruction about conservation methods, pollution problems, and the impact of humans on the environment.

While an undergraduate, an aspiring environmental attorney will want to prepare for the Law School Admission Test or LSAT. Every law school requires applicants to submit LSAT scores. Usually, aspiring lawyers take this test during the junior year of undergraduate study. Some companies offer multi-week prep courses that provide test-taking techniques and familiarize students with the exam's format.

Take the LSAT

The LSAT is a half-day exam that tests an examinee's analytical reasoning, critical thinking, and reasoning skills. The LSAT score is an important factor in the law school admissions process.

Graduate from Law School

Law school can be attended on a full- or part-time basis. Generally, full-time programs require three years of study. During the first year, law students complete courses focusing on basic law subjects, such as tort, contract, property, and criminal law. During their second and third years of study, students complete elective courses and can participate in judicial internships or clinical experiences.

Some law schools allow students to concentrate their studies on environmental law or environmental policy. Courses in these concentrations might cover topics like federal regulation of hazardous waste, toxic torts, natural resource law, and coastal law policy.

If a law school doesn't offer a specific concentration in environmental law, aspiring environmental attorneys should take as many electives in the field as they can. These students should also try to complete an environmental law internship. These internships provide students with hands-on experience working in the field. Internships may be a component of the curriculum of an environmental law concentration.

Take the Bar Exam

Every state requires lawyers to be licensed. Earning licensure requires taking a state's bar exam, passing a professional responsibility exam, and being admitted to the state's bar association. Although the format of each state's bar exam differs, the exam might consist of multiple days of testing of both essay and multiple choice questions. As with the LSAT, companies offer multi-week test prep courses that provide students with test taking techniques and provide instruction about the subjects of law tested on a state's exam.

Find Work

Private firms, companies, and government agencies hire environmental lawyers. Many times, companies and government agencies prefer to hire individuals with 5-7 years of work experience. Additionally, companies may prefer to hire individuals who previously worked for a government agency.

Consider Earning a Master of Laws

Some law schools offer a Master of Law (LL.M.) programs in environmental law and environmental and natural resources law to licensed attorneys. These programs might include courses in air pollution control, regulation of toxic substance risk, oil and gas law, wildlife law, and land use. Possessing advanced knowledge of the field may make it easier to work as an environmental lawyer.

In summary, an environmental attorney needs to earn an undergraduate degree, graduate from law school and pass a bar exam to earn state licensure. Earning a Master of Law could benefit an environmental attorney in his or her career.

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