Professor Patrice Simms joins Earthjustice as a Vice President for Litigation


This happened a couple of weeks ago, but still a great development.  My good friend Patrice Simms, law professor at Howard University Law School, is joining Earthjustice as a Vice President for Litigation.  Earthjustice is fortunate to get him (though he was already a member of the Board of Trustees and so has stepped down from that role).

Here’s the link to the Earthjustice press release:

In memory of Janet Reno, U.S. Attorney General 1993-2001

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno passed away earlier today, age 78.  My years as a young Justice Department lawyer, from 1994-1998, were all under her watch, a time that I have many fond memories of.  (I served in the Environment and Natural Resources Division, under AAG Lois Schiffer then.)  Reno set an example of integrity and fairness for all DOJ attorneys, and I was proud to have been a part of DOJ then.

On my last day at the Justice Department (in June 1998), Reno was kind enough to spend a little time with me and my wife Tinling in a private meeting, both to chat and to learn a little about where my next job was going to take me — which happened to be the start of my academic career at Vermont Law School.  I still remember how friendly and warm she was, even though at the time I was just a young and insignificant staff lawyer.  The world is a little poorer without her.

Below is the official photo.  Unfortunately, our own photos of Tinling and I with Reno are somewhere in storage.


Running the San Jose Half Marathon Today

img_1506I finished the San Jose Half Marathon in 2:23:51 today, more than 15 minutes faster than I had expected.  My running group included my good friend Professor Frank Wu (of Hastings College of Law) and Professor Carol Suzuki (of Univ. New Mexico Law School).  My friend Frank let me win, as a sign of respect for an elder — in fact, he let me win convincingly (by more than five minutes) so that it would like it was real.

At the finish line, I ran into my former student Parminder, who graduated last year.  Below are a few pictures of me at mile 9, with Parminder, with my spouse Tinling and daughter Gwen-Zoe, and an after-race lunch photo with Frank and Carol.  There will probably be a rematch in the coming months.


In Memory of Sun Yat-sen University Law Professor Cai Yanmin

caiyanminI am deeply saddened to share that Sun Yat-sen University Law Professor Cai Yanmin passed away on Monday in Guangzhou, China.  Professor Cai was truly a trail-blazer in her efforts to establish clinical legal education in Chinese law schools as well as her contributions as part of the legal clinic at SYSU to help migrant workers fight for their rights. She  served as Deputy Vice Dean of SYSU Law School in the early 2000s, as a member of the Guangdong Provincial People’s Congress, and as a member of the World Fellows Program at Yale University.  But in my mind, one of her most important contributions was to build bridges between American and Chinese legal academics, lawyers, and anybody else interested in promoting the rule of law.

I knew her as a warm and kind person with a keen intellect and generous spirit.  When I first met her, while I was still a member of the Vermont Law School faculty, she was Deputy Vice Dean of Sun Yat-sen University and interested in advancing the environmental law program at SYSU.  It was through her instrumental role and support that Vermont Law School was able to partner with SYSU Law School, later creating a long-running program (the US-China Partnership for Environmental Law), funded by USAID and the State Department, to provide  environmental law training and capacity-building in China.  Jinjing Liu, a friend and former colleague who worked with me on the VLS-SYSU Partnership, was a student of Professor Cai.  .

Here is a link to the SYSU Announcment.   Below is a pictures of me with her and her husband when I visited Sun Yat-sen University in 2003. I will dearly miss her.




US and China ratify Paris Climate Agreement

Crb5YS4WIAARlmHThe big announcement today was the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement by the U.S. and China.  (Strictly speaking, the US instrument is an instrument of acceptance.  Image of acceptance instrument is from White House website.)  Specifically, while at the G-20 meeting in Hangzhou, China, President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping delivered their countries’ respective instruments of ratification to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who is the official depositary for the agreement.  (Washington Post article 9/3/2016.)  The secretariat of the Paris Agreement has already updated the ratification status of the Paris Agreement to include the US and China, showing now 26 countries as parties and representing a total of 39.06% of global GHG emissions.

Under article 21 of the Paris Agreement, this agreement enters into force (and thus becomes legally effective) “on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.”   Thus, there is still a little bit to go before entry into force.  Ironically, almost all of the progress toward the 55% global GHG emission threshold for entry-into-force came from China and US joining of the treaty.  The previous 24 countries were almost all small states,  many of them tiny island nations, the largest countries being Norway and Peru.  The Washington Post article has a nice set of numbers of GHG emissions by some key countries.

As the Post article also mentions, effective implementation of the agreement is going to be heavily dependent on the outcome of the U.S. elections, since it is not likely that Trump will support U.S. membership.  On the other hand, the legal obligations attached to the Paris Agreement are fairly minimal, and there are no apparent legal consequences that non-compliance would have.

However, here is a thing that the Post article  got wrong and another issue that leaves some uncertainty for the agreement’s prospects.  Even though article 28 of the Paris prohibits withdrawal from the agreement during the first three years of the agreement and requires a year’s notice before a withdrawal can become effective, that does not mean that a country would have to stay in the agreement for the first 4 years.  If a country gave notice of withdrawal after 2 years, the withdrawal would become effective after the 3 year mandatory membership period would have ended.

The other issue that the Post article leaves unclear is what happens if Trump does win the election, but the Paris Agreement has not entered into force by January 20, 2017, when the next President takes office.  In that case, the 3-year-mandatory membership period would not have been triggered, since the agreement would not be in force, yet.  It seems likely that under international law a country would still be able to withdraw its instrument of ratification/approval and hence avoid treaty membership once the agreement were to enter into force.  Of course, such a situation will hopefully not occur.

And so, without thinking about all the things that could still go wrong with the Paris Agreement, today is a good day for those care about the fight against climate change.






Position: USDA, Office of General Counsel, Attorney Advisor (Natural Resources and Environment Division) (Deadline: Sept. 26, 2016, Washington, DC)

The position appears to be open to new attorneys.

Attorney Advisor


Agency Contact Information

  • 1 vacancy – Washington DC, DC
Work Schedule is Full-Time – Permanent

Opened Monday 8/29/2016(1 day(s) ago)

Closes Monday 9/26/2016(27 day(s) away)

  • Salary Range

    $64,650.00 to $84,044.00 / Per Year

  • Series & Grade


  • Promotion Potential


  • Supervisory Status


  • Who May Apply

    US Citizens and Nationals; no prior Federal experience is required.

  • Control Number


  • Job Announcement Number


Job Overview


This position is located in the Natural Resources and Environment Division (NRED) of the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), Department of Agriculture. NRED provides legal counsel, advice and services to the Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service with regard to natural resource and environmental law. The primary purpose of this position is to provide professional legal services to these agencies with regard to mineral and mining law, special use permit administration, and water law.

USDA provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management.  Our vision is to expand economic opportunity through innovation, helping rural America to thrive; to promote agriculture production sustainability that better nourishes Americans while also helping feed others throughout the world; and to preserve and conserve our Nation’s natural resources through restored forests, improved watersheds, and healthy private working lands.

The Office of the General Counsel (OGC) is an independent legal agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Attorneys in the Office of the General Counsel provide legal advice and services to the Secretary of Agriculture and all other officials and agencies of the Department with respect to all USDA programs and activities.  The primary purpose of the position is to provide professional legal services to major components of USDA and its agencies within the geographic area of the assigned office.

Pay Scale:
This position will start at the GS-11 level however, the full performance level is a GS-14.  Listed below are the salary ranges for each grade level.

GS-11:  $64,650 – $84,044
GS-12:  $77,490 – $100,736
GS-13:  $92,145- $119,794
GS-14:  $108,887 – $141,555

Please Note: Applicants must have 52 weeks of time-in-grade at the next lower grade level (or its equivalent) in order to move to the next higher grade level.


Conducting legal research and advising agency officials and OGC attorneys on complex legal questions, preparing pleadings, motions, briefs and other related documents, determining the nature of action along with the legal issues involved and the most effective course of action and the most advantageous legal strategies.

Advising USDA agency officials and other OGC attorneys on complex legal questions or factual issues and recommending final action on many matters regarding litigation.

Serving as a liaison between the U.S. Attorney’s Offices or Department of Justice and USDA agencies and officials.

Conducting extensive research to ensure any advice is based on a sound understanding of relevant facts and law, anticipating significant foreseeable consequences of advice and recommended actions to ensure that decisions made and actions taken are practical, effective, legally sound and supportable.

Reviewing certain agency reports, documents, and policy statements for legal sufficiency; conducting all legal research related to the above matters; and acting as a legal advisor to the administrative officials of the Department.

Negotiating with highly skilled and knowledgeable opposing counsel while acting within the parameters of delegated authority consistent with statutory authority and agency policy and objectives.

Planning, organizing, and conducting independent activities required in furnishing the legal services assigned.

Performing legal services in areas pertaining to the application of the complex United States mineral laws to various categories of National Forest System lands, the assessment of rights created by mining claims, mineral leases, and mineral sales contracts, the regulation of operations on mining claims, the authorization of mineral leasing and regulation of off-lease access and facilities, the withdrawal of land from the United States mineral laws, the authorization and regulation of oil and gas pipelines, the issuance and administration of discretionary permits authorizing other uses of National Forest System lands, and general administrative law.

Developing expertise in the minerals, special use permit administration, and water law practice areas and providing training to clients as needed.

Drafting of legal opinions, memoranda and regulations related to federal mineral laws and related topics.

Travel Required

  • Occasional Travel
  • Travel depends on the needs of the office.

Relocation Authorized

  • No
Job Requirements

Job Requirements

Key Requirements

  • US Citizenship is required.
  • Selective Service Registration is required for males born after 12/31/1959.
  • Cover Letter, Resume and Law School Transcripts are mandatory documents.
  • Proof of Bar Membership (if admitted) is also a mandatory document.



Applicants should have demonstrated experience in legal research, and have excellent writing and communication skills, and a strong academic record.

USDA handles a wide array of legal issues impacting all facets of the practice of law with the federal government and programs operated by USDA.  Examples include work on commercial matters such as financing and securing loans touching on commercial lending, bankruptcy and foreclosure issues; personnel issues involving claims of discrimination; agriculture matters involving programs operated by USDA; and contract claims involving the Federal Acquisition Regulations.

Experience refers to paid and unpaid experience, including volunteer work done through National Service programs (e.g., Peace Corps, AmeriCorps) and other organizations (e.g., professional; philanthropic; religious; spiritual; community, student, social). Volunteer work helps build critical competencies, knowledge, and skills and can provide valuable training and experience that translates directly to paid employment. You will receive credit for all qualifying experience, including volunteer experience.


Education: An applicant must have successfully completed a full course of study in a school of law accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) and have the first professional law degree (LLB or JD) at time of entry on duty.

Bar Membership: Applicant must currently be either a  member, (either active or inactive), in good standing of the bar or be a candidate for admission to the bar of a state, territory of the United States, District of Columbia, or Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Selectee must have an active bar license at time of entry on duty.


•  If you are newly hired, the documentation you present for purposes of completing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Form I-9 on your entry-on-duty date will be verified through the DHS “E-VERIFY” system. Federal law requires the use of E-VERIFY to confirm the employment eligibility of all new hires. Under this system, the new hire is required to resolve any identified discrepancies as a condition of continued employment.
•  To be eligible for appointment to this position, the new hire must be cleared to come on board once the results of the fingerprint check, review of the OF-306, Declaration for Federal Employment, and the candidate’s Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (eQIP) entries have been reviewed and determined to be satisfactory.  This position requires a favorable credit check as part of the background investigation.
•  Selectee must be able to obtain and maintain a security clearance.
•  May be subject to satisfactory completion of one-year probationary or trial period.
•  Additional selections may be made from this announcement.

Security Clearance

Public Trust – Background Investigation

Department Of Agriculture

Office of the General Counsel


Angela Ervin
Phone: 202-239-4528

TDD: (800) 877-8339


Office of the General Counsel
1400 Independence Ave., SW RM 2039
Washington, D.C.

United States

Fax: 202-720-5013