I work in fraud and asset recovery litigation, but want to move into environmental law, acting for clients seeking to protect the environment. I am a solicitor advocate. What are the best routes in and would further qualifications be necessary?
Carol Day, consultant solicitor at Leigh Day, says…
Anyone keen to pursue a career in environmental law would be advised to think about the type of organisation they’d like to work for (law firm, public sector or third (charitable) sector) and whether there’s a particular area of law they would like to specialise in.
For example, many firms specialise in public law and judicial review, in which the decisions, acts and omissions of public bodies are examined in court and covers a wide spectrum of environmental issues, such as planning matters, major infrastructure schemes, climate change/air pollution or wildlife protection. Some firms also specialise in private law matters such as nuisance, waste and noise pollution.
Finally, there’s a growing interest in criminal law matters, such as wildlife persecution, animal cruelty and even representing environmental activists. If you’re looking to go into a law firm, is it important to you to represent claimants, defendants or both? If you’re clear on the type of firm you’d like to work in, it’s worth contacting them to ask if they run internship schemes or might be prepared to give you some advice about the particular experience, skills and qualifications they’re looking for.
Alternatively, you might be keen to work for a charity, either as an in-house lawyer or on policy issues. Having a law degree can be a useful background for policy work – even if you don’t ultimately go on to qualify as a solicitor or a barrister. Alternatively, you can work in-house as a lawyer advising policy staff on how various legal tools (be that judicial review, company law or parliamentary bill work) can help achieve campaign objectives. If you’re drawn to working in the charity sector, a number of them (such as Friends of the Earth and the Environmental Law Foundation) run internships schemes, which can give you a valuable insight into how they (and other organisations in the field) operate.
It certainly isn’t pre-requisite to have an additional qualification in environmental sciences if you want to work in the commercial sector but if you want to break into the highly competitive charitable sector (mainly because there are so few opportunities as lawyers) it’s helpful to have amassed other experience and/or skills such as a Masters degree or voluntary work in a related area.
Finally, the hours are long and the pay isn’t great if you’re keen to enter the NGO world but your colleagues will be like-minded and it can be a wonderfully fulfilling career.