If you have a passion for the environment and want to pursue a career advocating for it, read on to learn more about how to become an environmental lawyer.
Currently, four of the top ten risks threatening the globe are environmental concerns. At the very top of this list are climate-related matters, particularly global warming and climate action failure.
These matters, which have been dubbed as “existential threats to humanity,” require immediate action and policy to be controlled. Some of the most important professionals advocating for this change are environmental lawyers.
If you’d like to be a part of this much-needed change, this guide will tell you more about how to become an environmental lawyer, their day-to-day tasks, their salary, and more.
As you begin looking into this career, you’ll likely have several questions. One pressing question might be, “how long does it take to become an environmental lawyer?”
The short answer is it’ll take at least seven years to become an environmental lawyer. The long answer is it depends on the level of specialized training you want and the time you take to complete each of the following steps involved in the process:
The first step in the journey of becoming an environmental lawyer is to complete an undergrad at an accredited university.
While one of the most common majors pre-law students pursue is Political Science, you can choose any major as long as you’re able to maintain the necessary GPA to be considered competitive at your desired law schools.
During your undergrad, you should try gaining experience advocating for the environment to get a better sense of what it entails and to confirm if you’re truly interested in pursuing it as a career.
Your school will likely have an environmental club or association and there are several volunteer opportunities you can join to begin getting your feet wet - perhaps literally as there are various beach cleaning volunteer projects across the nation!
There are also several environmental agencies and NGOs you can reach out to if you’d like to participate in specific conservation efforts.
If you’re interested in traveling, there are also various volunteer organizations that offer volunteer brigades across the globe.
While you’re still in your undergrad, you’ll have to write your LSAT in order to apply to law schools. While more law schools are now accepting the GRE in lieu of the LSAT, the LSAT is still the most trusted tool to assess students’ candidacy for law school.
If you’re hoping to join a top-ranking law school, you’ll need to score high on the LSAT. In order to do so, you’ll need to allocate an adequate amount of time to your prep and ensure you have a solid study plan that you can commit to.
Since almost half of all test-takers retake the LSAT to reach their target score, this should be factored into the time you give yourself to write the exam. Ensure you don’t leave it till the last minute, as this can delay your application process and prolong the already extensive journey required to become an environmental lawyer.
Once you’ve written your LSAT, applied to your top choices, and gotten offers, it’s essential you pick the right law school to complete your JD. There are several law schools that are best known for their environmental law programs.
For instance, Pace University ranks as the number one environmental law program in the nation, with over 40 courses on national and international environmental, energy, conservation, and land use topics.
Aside from picking a law school with a high-ranking environmental law program, you should also consider the experience and opportunity your law school can provide you.
Joining a law school with an environmental law clinic can offer you hands-on experience working on real legal cases involving the environment. Not only can this experience confirm your choice to pursue environmental law, but it can help boost your resume to open more doors for you post-graduation.
Regardless of the law school you apply to, ensure you stay focused and maintain high grades! Your academic performance will be a strong indicator of the types of employment you’re offered post-graduation.
The majority of jurisdictions require students to pass the MPRE as part of the licensing process. This exam tests students’ ethics and professional conduct. Students typically opt to write this exam during the summer of their second or third year in law school.
While this exam is only two hours long, you should still dedicate at least a couple of weeks to prepare for it!
After step four, you have the education and experience to begin practicing environmental law. However, some environmental lawyers pursue an LLM in Environmental Law to receive more specialized training, higher pay, and greater opportunities.
LLMs typically take around one year to complete.
Once you’ve received the legal education required to practice law, the final step is to prove you’ve absorbed all of the knowledge from your JD and can put it to practice. To do this, you’ll have to pass the bar exam.
As the final step in your journey, it’s crucial that you end on a high note by remaining focused and dedicating enough time and energy to your studies. The bar exam is extensive, and generally requires considerable preparation. The majority of students find at least three months of full-time studying to be enough to pass the exam.
While it’s obvious that these lawyers are responsible for handling legal cases involving the environment, their specific duties involve:
All of these general duties are applied to specific legal cases that can involve a wide-range of environmental issues, such as:
Environmental lawyers are also typically responsible for conducting a significant amount of research to draft appropriate policies and better advocate for their clients.
While you might be picturing these lawyers working in the field tackling environmental crises head-on, they largely work in offices. Environmental lawyers typically work for private or public law firms, governmental organizations, or as educators in academic institutions.
Some travel is expected of these lawyers to gather as much evidence and testimony as possible to build strong cases.
Another pressing question you might have is how much environmental lawyers make. Considering you’ll be spending an adequate amount of time and money on your education to become an environmental lawyer, knowing how much you’ll be making can assure you’ll be rewarded for your hard work.
An environmental lawyer’s average salary is around $148,910 a year. With more experience and depending on your location, your earning potential can increase.
As the environmental crises around the world continue at an alarming and urgent rate, the demand for environmental lawyers is expected to increase. There will be a 9% increase in this field over the next decade, and over 70,000 job openings.
We’ve covered the essentials about how to become an environmental lawyer. For any remaining concerns, here are the answers to frequently asked questions about this profession.
While there is no perfect degree to prepare you for the rigors of law school, students interested in environmental law may want to pursue a major in Environmental Science to broaden their knowledge on the subject.
However, since you’ll be gaining specialized training during law school, you should focus more on choosing a major that you can maintain high grades in than choosing one you believe will look best on your application.
Environmental lawyers are paid the highest in the District of Columbia, where their average salary is $197,100. However, California is the second-highest paying state for environmental lawyers, with an average salary of $179,470, but has twice as many job opportunities.
Environmental change is often slow and frustrating. It’s difficult to convince individuals and organizations to make significant changes that threaten the convenience and comfort they’ve gotten used to or are looking forward to.
As this type of law deals with issues that significantly threaten humanity, stakes are extremely high and there is a lot of pressure on these lawyers!
Top environmental lawyers can make more than $200,000 a year.
It will take at least seven years to become an environmental lawyer: four years to complete an undergraduate degree and three years to complete a JD. Students interested in completing an LLM can expect to add at least one more year to this timeline.
Pace University currently ranks as the best program for environmental law.
As one of the few professions that is actively fighting against the most daunting existential threats to humanity, environmental lawyers make a real and significant impact on the world! By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can be part of this change and ensure the world is a safer place for everyone!