Environmental Law Degree

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Why an Environmental Law Degree?

Environmental Law is a specialization in law related to the regulation and usage of our natural resources; be they water, air, land, and species inhabiting these areas. Laws are in place globally and locally that regulate specifics from noise levels to chemical discharges encompassing habitat destruction, remediation, and a variety of other subjects. Pollutants and their containment, transport, and clean-up are a large part of environmental regulatory issues. The energy sector, especially involving fossil fuels such as oil and gas, is highly regulated. Many environmental law professionals can work their entire career just in this arena.

A degree in Environmental Law is just that, it isn't a Bachelor's, Master's, or PhD, it is a “doctor of Law”, or Juris Doctor (JD). You may also see the abbreviation or offering of an LLD, or MD, JSP, JSD, etc. from some schools. These specialty degrees are often for individuals planning to teach law, or those that know they have an established role in well respected firm that requires such elaborate degrees. Bachelor's degrees, and perhaps, if one wanted, Master's degrees, can be earned in other closely related fields that would aid a student in their environmental law efforts. Suggested fields would be Environmental Policy, Environmental Management, Environmental Sustainability, Environmental Legislation, Environmental Economics, or Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. Some students may begin in a true “environmental science”, such as biology or chemistry and then go to law school. They may also major in Policy, Law, Economics, etc. as an undergraduate and then gain an interest in the environmental area afterwards.

Typical coursework for the Environmental Law specialty should include environmental law and international environmental law. Basic legal courses will also be covered so that students can pass the bar exam. If no other environmental classes were taken before law school, students should have some ecology and sustainability core course work. Specialty classes may be in land use, energy law, economic analysis of law, animal law, indigenous rights, various international specialties, and climate change.

Job Prospects with a Degree in Environmental Law

Environmental Attorneys work in various businesses, government agencies, and at private law firms. Their expertise is necessary in many arenas, from ensuring existing laws are adhered to, and working to write new ones as necessary. They may help on Environmental Impact Assessments, they may testify on behalf of the public against a corporation, they may help business owners find new means to conduct their desired trades, or they may work to help raise or lower government standards of accepted pollutants or toxins. The energy sector, especially oil and natural gas, employs a good number of environmental lawyers. Like other environmental lawyers, they may specialize in anything from habitat remediation to aiding in acquiring new land leases.

At the federal government level, environmental lawyers work for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the United States National Park Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to name a few agencies. Locally, they work with state agencies and municipalities. They may work to uphold numerous resource management laws already in place, such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act or so-called Superfund act. Much of the rules and regulations we are familiar with in our everyday lives are guided by environmental laws. There are laws regarding dumping of garbage, toxic waste, pollution on our shorelines, nuclear waste, safe noise levels, etc. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) is very important in the day to day lives of many Americans.

Read more about how to become an environmental lawyer.

Common Divisions/Specialties within Environmental Law

  • Energy Law
  • Land Utilization
  • Water Usage and Protection
  • Habitat Stabilization, Remediation
  • Toxicity levels and Pollutants

Environmental Law Degrees and Overviews

Juris Degree in Environmental Law

Juris Degree (JD) Due to the nature of law school, this will be the only degree covered, as it is the one required to pass the bar and act as a lawyer. Other degrees are available and vary by school and legal specialty, but the JD is the only one necessary.


Different law schools may have different standards, but in general you will need a certain score on the LSAT, a good undergraduate GPA, a major in a subject which will aid you in studying law, such as policy, management, history, economics, etc., a letter of intent, an application fee, and at least 3 letters of recommendation.


Year 1 of Law School is supposed to be one of the most challenging academic undertakings. At the conclusion students must pass the First Year Law Students Exam (FYLSE). Years 2 and 3 can be just as tough, but in different ways, as they are not intended to weed through the “first-years”, but rather to continue to build strong legal foundations as well as offer in-depth courses in desired areas of specialties. These are the years when you would be taking environmental electives.


After being admitted to the Bar Association in the state of choice, a student could look for a junior attorney position. Perhaps one would be available where they had an internship, or working for the government. Many lawyers begin in positions quite different from where they end their careers. Some companies will recruit top students.

School Spotlights

Lewis and Clark Law School

The Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon is the first law school to offer a degree in Environmental Law in the country. It continues to offer various innovative programs such as a Masters of Studies in Environmental and Natural Resources Law, which is designed for students not planning to practice law, but needing to know about Environmental Laws. Other degree offerings are the basic JD, a LL.M., and a joint JD & LL.M. program. The LL.M. is the more advanced degree which generally requires completion of the JD to enroll to study. Students earning a Certificate in Environmental and Natural Resources Law while earning their JD have to take Environmental Law, Administrative Law, and 8 additional credits from the Environmental offerings.

UC Berkeley School of Law

The University of California's Berkeley Law School is one of the first law schools that offered Environmental Law as a major. It continues to remain as one of the most progressive environmental law school, also offering courses in green technology law. In addition to the JD, there are a handful of other degree offerings in Environmental Law such as a LL.M., a J.S.D., and a JSP, or PhD. Students may become writers, editors, or otherwise contribute to the Ecology Law Quarterly, an environmental law journal, or work with the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment. Classes are a mix of traditional classroom, seminar, externships in the San Francisco area, and workshops.

Online Environmental Law Degrees

Perhaps you have decided to pursue a law degree later in life, or are turned off by the high costs of a legal education. There are opportunities available to earn a degree through an online environment, though you must sit for the bar exam in person. These degrees can be earned for a fraction of the cost of other degrees. However, you will give up certain aspects of an in-person education, some that may be fundamental to obtaining your desired position afterwards.

Concord Law School of Kaplan University offers an online Juris Doctor (JD) degree which can be completed in 3-4 years. They have offered law classes online since 1998 and have over 1800 graduates. Students still adhere to taking the First Year Law Student Exam and passing it before taking any advanced classes.

Career after Graduation in Environmental Law

Your first job or any internships done while in school may go a long way in setting your future in Environmental Law. There are opportunities to work on levels from private practice to corporate lawyers, with various government positions along the way.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lawyers earned approximately $114,000 on average in 2012, with a normal growth rate expected. Environmental Lawyers may make up a large portion of that growth rate as there is a growing demand to meet sustainable goals. Lawyers working in private practices may earn less than those working in corporations due to overhead expenses, but that is a generalization.

In order to practice law in a certain state, you must pass the bar exam there, or earn some reciprocity. Therefore it is valuable to know which state you would prefer to work within when both choosing your school, and preparing for your bar exam. If you would like to know how well your school does in having students working in the field after graduation, you may use this tool from the American Bar Association.

Education Costs

A law degree is generally a 3-4 year degree earned after a Bachelor's degree. The costs of the Bachelor's Degree can vary greatly. Funding opportunities for law school seem to be more limited than for advanced degrees in the sciences. School costs can range from approximately $300,000 for a JD degree to closer to $40,000 for an online degree. If you would like to learn more about costs and comparing them, a great tool is available from Law School Transparency. It is important to consider what you will gain from your school experience, ensure the school is accredited, and prepares you for the state bar exam where you would like to practice law.

Importance of Accreditation

The American Bar Association

The American Bar Association (ABA) is a voluntary professional organization for legal professionals and students. Members are worldwide, with headquarters in Chicago and a large presence in Washington D.C.. For over 130 years, the ABA has offered support to legal professionals, served to accredit law schools, and helped establish working model ethical codes. Because lawyers need to be admitted to the Bar for their state, it would be foolish to go to pursue an education anywhere other than an accredited school.

Continuing Education

It may not seem as though an environmental lawyer has to take very many environmental related classes in order to practice this type of law. That may be accurate, but there are always continuing education opportunities for lawyers. These may give individuals their chance to learn more about a specific field. As they say, living is the best experience, so working in the field will also hone a lawyer's knowledge set.

Read more about environmental law.