Environmental, Energy law remain strong for hiring

While it can be a competitive field to break into, the job market for environmental and energy lawyers is looking up, according to Pace University School of Law Professor Jason Czarnezki, who directs the Environmental Law Program.

"The environmental law job market has significantly improved over the past few years as government agencies and non-profits, in particular, have begun hiring again,” Czarnezki said. “New environmental lawyers are needed to handle the emergence of renewable energy programs, climate regulation, and food safety legislation, in addition to more traditional air and water quality litigation."

In an effort to make students more marketable job candidates, Pace University’s Environmental Law Program encourages students to build a strong portfolio while they are still in law school.

Professor Janice Weis, who also serves as the associate dean and director of the environmental & natural resources law program at Lewis & Clark Law School, thinks environmental law has been a steady source of employment due to its vast presence on local, state and federal levels.

“As long as the statutes are on the books, lawyers are needed to enforce them, interpret them, and counsel clients on how to comply with them — everything from clean air, clean water, and hazardous waste to endangered species, forest law and land use,” she said.

Though the overall specialization has had fairly steady employment prospects, demand for sub-specializations such as energy, food and water law tend to fluctuate with the times, she said.

“With growing climate change concerns and technological and legal responses to climate change happening around the world, there has been growth in jobs for lawyers interested in the energy field, as well as growing interest in the field among potential and current law students,” Weis said. “Water law has been a source of jobs for a long time, especially in arid areas, but with droughts recurring in areas like California, we are seeing an uptick in the need for lawyers to help resolve some of those issues, including re-shaping policy.”

Environmental law, while a specialization on its own, has several sub-specializations, including energy, climate land use, national and state politics, pollution control and more.

There are 20 law schools that offer graduate law degrees in environmental law, natural resources or energy law. Vermont Law School offers programs in either environmental law or energy law. Both are offered on campus and online.

This year, University of Connecticut School of law launched an LL.M. in Energy and Environmental Law. Law students can apply up to 12 credits of specialized courses toward LL.M. requirements, lessening the time and money it takes to earn the additional degree.

The environmental law programs at University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and Pace Law School, located more than 200 miles apart in Maryland and New York respectively, have formed an Environmental Law Alliance. The new alliance will include faculty and student exchanges plus shared environmental externships and experiential learning opportunities. 

“This will give students at both schools greater access to environmental externships and expertise in the D.C. and New York City metropolitan areas and even around the world in countries like China and Brazil,” said Professor Robert Percival, Maryland Carey Law’s Robert F. Stanton Professor of Law and Environmental Law Program Director