The environment is on everyone’s mind these days. From the Gulf Coast oil spill to China’s “airpocalypse” smog, you almost wonder if the world has really gone green. The battle lines have been drawn: Awareness or action? Conservation or commerce? Today or tomorrow? We live in the global warming era, where the threat of decline and devastation–real or imagined–shadows us. People may need clean water and air, but they must also develop the land and extract natural resources to maintain a high quality of life, How do you find a balance? One avenue is through environmental law, whether it is legislation or litigation.
Environmental attorneys must understand both science and trade–and the needs and limitations inherent to both. And that’s what the best environment law programs do: provide the legal, technical, and policy knowledge so students can act as stewards for the common good.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the market for lawyers is expected to grow by 10% from 2012-2022. The University of Vermont notes that practicing environmental law looks particularly promising, as issues like sustainability, pollution, and climate change will command increasing attention and regulation in the coming years.
Based in Portland, Oregon, the Lewis & Clark Law School was the first environmental law program in the United States. Offering 26 courses and 18 seminars, the program also includes an LL.M. in Environmental Law and a Master of Studies in Environmental and Natural Resources Law. Along with a full-time externship, students can gain practical experience through internships in animal law, environmental prosecution, natural resources law, and environmental justice and civil rights. The school also hosts the Green Energy Institute, which manages projects and formulates policy on renewable energy, and the National Resources Law Institute, which coordinates over 20 education programs, including environmental law training for judges, lawyers, and domestic and international agencies. You can speak to a Utility Saving Expert and learn how to save on energy. In addition, the school publishes two respected law journals: Environmental Law Review and Animal Law.
As part of its 2014 law school rankings, U.S. News and World Report ranked specialty tracks like environmental law. Unlike its overall ranking, which weighs criteria like placement rates, LSAT scores, and assessments from law school deans, tenured faculty, lawyers, and judges, U.S. News calculates its specialty rankings strictly from votes submitted by legal scholars, with each voter able to nominate up to 15 schools. Based on the number of votes cast for particular schools, U.S. News ranks the top 10 law schools for environmental law.
You’ll be surprised to learn that the top three environmental law programs are small and private programs such as Vermont Law School, the top finisher. In fact, no program in the top 10 is an Ivy League school. And the University of California-Berkeley, ground zero for the environmental movement, is tied for third with Pace University (which ranks 134th overall). Some advice to potential applicants is in order here: Generally, it’s a better idea to go to a more highly ranked law school, provided it still has a strong department in the specific area you’re interested in. So based on U.S. News’ list, UC-Berkeley might be the best choice–if you can get in.
And rankings only tell you so much. Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies is one of the best places in the world to study green and sustainability issues. Obviously, Yale’s Law School is one of the two best in the world. Add it all up and–if you can get into Yale to begin with–this would be the way to go, because you can also take courses at the university’s School of Forestry. Yet, Yale doesn’t even make the list of the top schools and programs. (See following page for Poets&Quants’ table of the best programs in environmental law)