Key Facts

Environmental law covers the legal issues associated with areas such as climate change, sources of energy, pollution, health and safety, contamination, waste dumping, recycling and disaster management

As environmental law is such a niche practice, there are very few lawyers that specialise purely in environmental law. Usually environmental lawyers are specialist construction or project lawyers that work in the environmental sector, amongst other sectors. There may be other legal practice specialists that work in the environmental sector too for example when two environmental organisations wish to merge, a corporate lawyer that works in the environmental sector may be called onto the project. 

There are both contentious (dispute related) and non-contentious (transactional and advisory related) elements to the environmental sector.

What do environmental lawyers do?

In a corporate context, environmental lawyers will:

  • give advice to businesses about the environmental consequences of pursuing particular corporate activities. For example, advise a business on health and safety or pollution; 

  • complete due diligence exercises as a preventive measure or a reactionary measure to check how the business is complying with environmental law across its organisation. Examples include ensuring it has appropriate waste disposal methods, complying with wildlife conservation regulations etc; 

  • advise businesses in respect of their regulatory requirements; 

  • advise businesses on any proposed or expected investigations by authorities; 

  • advise on planning law issues such as planning applications, s106 agreements, community levy charges, tree preservation orders, contamination issues and generally handling any appeals and challenges in connection with environmental issues connected to planning; 

  • advise and support on environmental risk management and compliance; 

  • advise on water law, resource and waste management; 

  • advise on the financing of a particular environmental project; 

  • advise on product stewardship ('product stewardship' is an environmental management strategy that means whoever designs, produces, sells, or uses a product takes responsibility for minimising the product's environmental impact throughout all stages of the products' life cycle)

It's also possible to work for the Government in this sector such as the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the regulatory bodies such as the Environment Agency and in Local Government too. In a government role, lawyers in this sector will advise and draft legislation and get involved in litigation. 

Environmental litigation can be quite costly for defendants (usually corporate bodies) and vey high profile. Cases can be pursued through both the criminal and civil courts. 

Skills required for the role...

  • very technical - environmental legislation is continuing to grow and develop so keeping on top of this is crucial 

  • good drafting skills

  • strong academics 

  • good reasoning and analytical skills 

  • genuine interest in environmental law 

  • team player - you may get involved in larger projects that require lawyers from multiple practice areas and you'll work together to achieve a common goal