Arguably one of the most topical practice areas of law at the moment, environmental law allows us to continuously analyse the relationship between people and the environment. So if you have a real passion for fighting against climate change or pollution, this might be the area of law for you.

What Is Environmental Law?

Environmental law can cover anything from health and safety, dumping of waste, recycling, environmental disasters, climate change and alternative energy sources.

The UK’s first piece of legislation centred entirely on the environment came in 1990 when the UK enacted the Environmental Protection Act. This piece of law defined the structure and authority for waste management and control of emissions into the environment. It contained provisions on air pollution, land waste and smoke, fumes, dust, smell and noise.

In 2008, the UK enacted the Climate Change Act making it the first country in the world to have a long-term framework for cutting carbon emissions. It showed a commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Recently, the government went even further by committing to net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050.

Despite the recent acknowledgment of a climate crisis, environmental law is still considered a very specialist area, and only a few firms have an explicit focus on it.  Many firms, however, deal with environmental issues more generally within other departments. For example, property or construction.


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How to Become an Environmental Lawyer

To become an environmental lawyer, you should demonstrate certain skills and personality traits that would aid you in the work you’d be doing. You will also have to seek out some relevant work experience, outlined below.

Is it for Me?

To be a good environmental lawyer, it is important to be flexible and be able to multi-task because you’re likely to have lots of fast-moving projects to keep an eye on at the same time. It is also crucial to have strong reasoning and keen commercial awareness skills, especially if you find yourself working within a business environment, because it will then be imperative you understand your client’s organization. It is also beneficial for you to have a keen interest in the field.

What Work Experience Do I Need?

Relevant work experience is vital in this practice area. Despite this, one of the best things about gaining work experience in the environment sector is that there are many opportunities available to volunteer for environmental causes which will highlight a passion for the area. For example, offering your time to environmental charities, conservation projects or Greenpeace are all ways to show a passion for environmental issues.

Moreover, if working in a law firm is what you really want, firms that have an environmental work specialism or deal with environmental issues within another department such as planning offer further opportunities for experience in the area.

As environmental law is still a relatively niche area. To pursue a career in environmental law outside a law firm, it is likely that you’ll have to qualify first. However, many firms have an environment seat available as part of their training contract which may allow you to work within this area.

What Do Environmental Lawyers Do?

As an environmental lawyer, most opportunities arise within advising large organisations and businesses regarding environmental risks and regulations as well as helping them if litigation is brought against them.

There are also some opportunities within Non-Governmental Organisations such as the Environmental Law Foundation. Moreover, as an environmental lawyer, you could find yourself working in a government or regulatory position such as in the Department for the Environment or the Environment Agency.

If you are acting for corporate clients, your activities are likely to include:

  • Advising on environmental risks and regulations regarding waste, pollution and health and safety.
  • Litigation if/when it arises.
  • If you work for the government or the Environment Agency, you may be involved in:
  • Advising on legislation
  • Drafting the best clauses for new legislation
  • Litigation

Environmental Law Firms

As previously mentioned, there are still very few entirely environmental law firms. However, there are lots of firms that deal with environmental issues within other broader areas. Firms which deal with environmental law include:

  • Burges Salmon
  • Clifford Chance
  • Baker McKenzie
  • Linklaters
  • Taylor Wessing
  • Travers Smith
  • Harrison Grant
  • Irwin Mitchell


Environmental Law Books

There are many environmental law books available to help those wishing to study the subject in more detail.

Environmental LawStuart Bell, Donald McGillivray, Ole Pedersen, Emma Lees and Elen Stoke£35
Environmental Law: A Very Short IntroductionElizabeth Fisher£6
Environmental Law: Text, Cases and MaterialsElizabeth Fisher£36
European Environmental LawSuzanne Kingston£33
Principles of International Environmental LawPhillipe Sands, Jacqueline Peel£41


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