UC Hastings has added an environmental law concentration to its curriculum, formalizing the college’s depth in the field and providing students a clear educational roadmap for their part in saving the planet.
The concentration lays out “what 21st Century environmental lawyers need to know and do,” said Professor David Takacs, concentration advisor. “It provides a more formalized approached to our curriculum.”
Level of interest in the concentration is high. A significant impetus for the initiative came from students, 76 of whom signed a petition to the curriculum committee and Chancellor & Dean Frank H. Wu. “Environmental problems are growing in importance and scale, particularly as the climate destabilizes,” the students wrote. “As the legal system responds, it increases the likelihood that our graduates will engage with these problems throughout their careers.”
The move comes at a time when environmental law opportunities are growing. California is the only state with a comprehensive climate change law that implements sweeping reforms to lower greenhouse gas emissions. After only one year, California’s state-run cap-and-trade carbon market raised $1.4 billion, some of which will fund renewable energy projects.
The new concentration draws on the work of four professors with deep roots in the environmental world.
Takacs said UC Hastings’ location in San Francisco makes it an ideal place to study environmental law. “California has the most aggressive environmental laws in the country. We are on the cutting edge of environmental problem-solving. Lawyers are needed to help enforce those laws, to make sure government fulfills its legal responsibilities, to challenge government when it doesn’t, and to help municipalities, cities and counties, as well as businesses, understand what those responsibilities are,” he said. “Add that up, and there are tremendous opportunities for environmental lawyers.”
CENTER OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT
The college’s Environmental Law Clinic places students in externships with some of the most respected environmental organizations in the country, including the Center for Food Safety, Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, and the Center of Biological Diversity. Lawyers for America, the college’s novel program to provide improve the practical skills of new lawyers, recently partnered with the Center for Biological Diversity, providing a pipeline for training in environmental law. Other students work for the U.S. Justice Department, the California Coastal Commission, and the U.S. Department of Interior.
The school’s environmental law journal, Hastings West-Northwest Journal of Environmental Law and Policy, now in its 20th year, is the first regional environmental law journal covering California and the Pacific Northwest. This year, students are organizing a day-long water law symposium that draws experts from around the West, including all the major law schools.
Combined, these offerings attract students like 2L Nicholas Whipps, who came to UC Hastings after earning a graduate degree in conservation biology, field work in China, and a two years’ service in the Peace Corps in Senegal. He plans to take his interest in public interest law and apply it to endangered species. Whipps and classmates were able to attend the annual Environmental Law Conference at Yosemite and network with top practitioners from around the West. Later this year, Whipps begins work as a Lawyers for America fellow at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Graduates go on to jobs at the center of environmental law and policy, such as Andrew Rakestraw ’12, who works for the U.S. State Department as an international climate negotiator.
A RENAISSANCE LAW PRACTICE
“Environmental law draws Renaissance men and women,” Takacs said. “The practice is varied, from litigation to transactional. The subject matter is so disparate, and the expertise you need to solve these problems are so varied. It attracts students who like big picture problems and solve big picture puzzles.”
“If you are looking for an intellectual challenge that is ethically rewarding, and allows you to pay the rent, environmental law is it,” Takacs said. “We have wonderful opportunities for students, in the context of a broad and rigorous legal education, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where these opportunities are a walk or a MUNI ride away.”