Fellowship: California Lawyers Association, Environmental Law Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship Program (Deadline: Oct. 25, 2021)

For Summer 2022: https://calawyers.org/section/environmental-law/fellowships/

This is a terrific opportunity for law students. One of my students spent a summer with Earthjustice through this fellowship and had a great experience.

California Lawyers Association – Environmental Law Section Webinar: Intro to Environmental Law Series – Water Law 101, Sept. 2, 12 noon California Time (Free Registration)

The Cal Bar Environmental Law Section is running a series of basic introductory webinars to environmental law. I watched the intro to Air Pollution Law (Air Quality Law 101) last week, and it was an excellent introduction to air pollution law suitable for law students or junior lawyers who have had little or no exposure environmental law. I highly recommend it for law students interested in environmental law. I’ll post the link to the recorded presentations when the Section makes it available. (By the way, these webinar definitely have a California emphasis – but then again California is the most important state jurisdiction for environmental law purposes . . . . that was a joke.)

For those interested in a basic intro to water law (which would include both pollution and water rights, I assume), there is another webinar coming up. Registration is free. Here is a link for the registration and also a short description of the webinar below: https://calawyers.org/event/webinar-intro-to-environmental-law-series-water-law-101/

From the notice about this webinar series:

“Interested in the practice of environmental law? Running into basic environmental issues in your field of law? The Environmental Law Section and the California Young Lawyers Association (CYLA) are excited to co-present this free series covering key practice areas within the environmental legal field. This series is geared toward law students, new lawyers, and even experienced attorneys interested in learning more about environmental law.”

“Participants will receive a “101” level introduction to the practice area from private, government, and non-profit lawyers. Each panel will include a high-level overview of the basic legal framework, real-life project examples, and a question-and-answer session for attendees to meet members practicing in the field. This year’s series will conclude with a primer on the Environmental Law Section’s 30th annual Yosemite Conference, scheduled for October 14-17, 2021.”

Law Students for Climate Accountability, 2021 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard

The Law Students for Climate Accountability recently published their “2021 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard.”

This seems to be a really interesting resource for law students or lawyers who are concerned about climate change and other environmental issues and therefore would like to choose law firm employers with that in mind. The report only reviews large law firms that are profiled on the website vault.com. (My law firm days are so far in the distant past that I am no longer familiar with the various law firm ranking organizations.) Suffice it say though, the LS4CA scorecard seems to grade law firms on how responsible they are with respect to their work on climate/environmental issues, i.e. are they making things worse or helping to make things better on climate and the environment through their legal representations in litigation, transactions, and lobbying matters? The score card assigns law firms with grades ranging from A to F.

I would recommend this report to any of my students who care about the social responsibility of lawyers, especially those who are interested in an environmental law practice in a private law firm setting.

However, a closer examination also leaves me scratching my head. While I am not familiar with all of the law firms that are included in the scorecard (especially their practice specialties and strengths), the inclusion of some firms seems odd. (Of course, as I mentioned, I am not particularly close to private law firm environmental law practice these days.) For example, Wilson Sonsini (A) and Fenwick West (B) are big Silicon Valley firms that cater to a tech clientele; Littler Mendelson (B) is primarily an employment/labor law firm; Fish and Richardson (B) does primarily intellectual property/patent work. As far as I can tell, none of these firms have significant environmental law/climate change law practices, whether regulatory, transactional, or litigation-focused.

On the other end of the score card (grades D and F) are many of the firms that I think of as having major environmental law practices: Latham & Watkins, Morrison Foerster, Gibson Dunn, Perkins Coie, Pillsbury Winthrop, Arnold & Porter, Sidley Austin, etc. These firms have a group of very experienced environmental law practitioners and interesting work and could thus provide really valuable training for junior lawyers.

I didn’t look carefully at the study methodology, but there is no reason to think that the measures don’t reflect something problematic about the work of the ranked firms. However, maybe there is also something else going on, which may be more obvious — if one wants to practice environmental law in a large private/commercial law firm, it is very difficult to represent “green” interests/clients. Inherently in the nature of private lawyers being “hired guns,” environmental law practice in a private firm setting is going to skew overwhelmingly to the representation of polluters and organizations that use up/degrade natural resources. Those are the paying clients. Which is of course why most students who are committed to “green” causes end up doing NGO or government work. And it seems that the law firms that come out most positively with respect to the environment on the scorecard are the firms that don’t really do much environmental law work in the first place (at least not in a traditional environmental law practice).

So, maybe the take-away from the scorecard for aspiring young environmental lawyers is this — don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can do positive environmental/climate work at a traditional large law firm. OK, that’s probably overstating the point, but something like that is probably the bottom line. (OK, OK – this is also contrary to what I usually advise my students – that even in a large law firm/corporate environmental law practice, you can still do good for the environment by advising and directing your client toward the environmentally responsible course of action. However, this scorecard seems to suggest that there is a serious limitation to that kind of thinking.)

Groundwater Rise: An International Problem that California Must Solve

The devastating effects of climate change are numerous, diverse, and often disrupt our best-laid plans.  One novel issue which is only now starting to get attention is groundwater rise.  When we think of sea-level rise, we often think about the ocean encroaching our coastal shores and flooding our beaches – but we forget about the waterways in the ground beneath our feet. Groundwater fills the holes and fractures in underground materials like water fills a sponge. It can be deep in the earth, or shallow and near the surface.  Along coasts, underground saltwater floats directly beneath the freshwater.  When underground saltwater rises with the rising seas, it is expected to push the groundwater up and sometimes even out of the ground.  In addition to flooding basements and impacting plumbing, this rise can also crumble roads and create extended earthquake liquefaction zones. In 2012, Hawaiian scientists discovered the earliest first-hand evidence of the phenomena already in action.

Global climate change is expected to cause at least an average one foot rise in sea levels by the end of the century, with a three foot rise in California, but it may end up being much more. A survey in one Bay Area city found local groundwater to currently be an average of six feet below the surface near the Bay edge, and often as close to the surface as only one to two feet below. Even a small rise in sea levels can have devastating effects with already shallow groundwater. The effects become even more problematic if the groundwater is contaminated by chemicals.  For those who live or work near the shore and in polluted areas, sleeping monsters are about to awake.

Potential Impacts of Sea-Level Rise (SLR) and Flooding in the San Francisco Bay Area: https://lao.ca.gov/reports/2019/4121/Fig2.png
California LAO: Preparing for Rising Seas: How the State Can Help Support Local Coastal Adaptation Efforts

When chemicals pollute soil and groundwater, the contamination may be mitigated by procedures to contain the toxins and reduce the risk to humans nearby. However, these containment procedures generally factor in the current depth of the groundwater at that time and there is usually no follow up later to assess if the mitigation is still sufficient (such as if physical circumstances changed in the area).  More than 945 EPA Superfund sites are at risk due to global climate change generally, and 330 EPA Superfund sites were found to be at risk of flooding due to only five feet of sea level rise. The California LAO recently stated, “floodwaters could penetrate both surface-level and underground tanks and force out toxic liquids, or liberate waste from pits or piles.” Though, this analysis does not even consider vapor intrusion risks as the groundwater rises closer the surface.

The issue of contaminated groundwater rise has been overlooked by city planners and decision-makers for decades, but we cannot wait any longer.  Many coastal cities across the world will be impacted by this issue.  California has an impressive history of environmental innovation and pioneering novel solutions to address global climate change. This issue should be no different — not only because the world needs a solution, but because this issue will be disastrous for Californians if we cannot get ahead of it at home.

– Ashley Gjovik

Ashley is an advocate for human rights, including healthy environments. She is currently a law student at Santa Clara University studying international public interest law and policy. 

Stratospheric Ozone Protection & Mario Molina

By coincidence, we just discussed protection of the stratospheric ozone layers in my environmental law course this week when I saw the obituary for Dr. Mario Molina yesterday, a Mexican-American scientist. His research on damage to the ozone layer by CFCs and other ozone depleting chemicals was awarded a Nobel Prize and eventually prompted the negotiation of the Ozone Treaties (Vienna Convention and Montreal Protocol). These agreements have become among the most successful international environmental treaties to date and continue to serve as models for modern environmental treaty-making. In his later days, he used his role to speak out on these broader environmental policy issues, including in the context of climate change. What a loss.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/10/nobel-laureate-who-helped-save-ozone-layer-dies

ABA SEER (Environment Section) 2020-2021 Law Student Writing Competitions

The ABA Section on Environment, Energy, and Resources has some terrific writing prize opportunities for law students, well designed for submission of course papers. Many of them have a 20 page length limit on submissions. All of them have a submission deadline of May 31, 2021, with a $1000 cash prize for the top paper. For additional requirements and details, see the links.

California Lawyers Assocation, Environmental Law Section – Environmental Law Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship Program (Deadline: October 26, 2020)

A terrific fellowship opportunity for qualified law students. One of my students was a recipient recently and had a great experience. The program provides a summer $6500 stipend and helps place students in a valuable environmental law summer internship.

To see the fellowship criteria, see the program description on the CLA Environmental Law Section’s website at https://calawyers.org/section/environmental-law/fellowships/.

[The program’s description of fellowship qualification criteria are quite expansive.]

Most Entertaining Law Professor

So it turns out that I have been voted “Most Entertaining Law Professor of the Year” by the Santa Clara law students (with the award delivered by the Student Bar Association Presidents and duly inscribed on a vinyl record).  It made my day!  However, I also have to confess that I am a little bewildered — my family usually accuses me of being too serious and “a stick in the mud.”  But it still made my day (and probably my month).  (I think my property law students were happy for me, too!  So kind of them.)

Winter Break Advice for 1L Law Students

Here’s some great advice that one of my former students, now practicing with a large corporate law firm, had for my current 1L law students.  I am sure they will need a break from an intense first semester of law school.  Unfortunately, for the sake of their future legal career, there is not much rest to be had.  The early (as well as diligent and assertive) bird still gets the worm.

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