The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Nessa Horewitch Coppinger, Principal—Environmental Litigation;
Anthony Papetti, Associate—Environmental
Nessa Horewitch Coppinger is a principal in Beveridge & Diamond’s Washington, DC, office. She joined B&D in 2003 after receiving her J.D. from the University of Virginia. Nessa is a member of the firm’s Management Committee. She chaired B&D’s Associates and Diversity & Inclusion Committees for several years and has a strong commitment to associate development and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession. She led B&D’s efforts to become a Mansfield Certified Plus firm and was a fellow of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity in 2019. Nessa maintains an active pro bono practice, with particular focus on civil rights and immigration issues.
Anthony Papetti is a sixth-year associate in B&D’s New York City office. Before joining B&D, he received his J.D. from Pace University School of Law, served as a judicial intern for Judge Patty Shwartz in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, clerked for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, and served as an environmental advisor to the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. He maintains an active pro bono practice assisting immigrants in obtaining asylum status. He also sits on the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Nessa: I am an environmental litigator. I also advise clients on pre-litigation risk reduction and strategy. I focus mostly on high-stakes complex litigation that involves multiple parties, but have litigated a wide variety of environmental matters. I litigate tort claims (nuisance, negligence, products liability); statutory claims under state and federal environmental laws; and administrative challenges, such as rulemaking challenges.
Anthony: My practice is a relatively even mix of environmental litigation and regulatory matters. My litigation practice has involved matters under most of the major environmental statutes. On the regulatory end, my practice focuses on assisting clients, particularly in the automotive sector, in developing their product compliance management systems on a global scale.
What types of clients do you represent?
Nessa: I have represented a wide variety of clients. Right now, I am actively representing a state, a municipal entity, several Fortune 100 companies, and several smaller businesses.
Anthony: I’ve also represented a wide variety of clients, including energy and chemical companies and municipalities, and worked with auto manufacturers.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Nessa: I work on a broad range of matters. I am currently litigating a rulemaking challenge, defending multiple statewide products liability cases brought by state attorneys general in both state and federal courts, defending a government entity that intervened in a lawsuit against the DOJ, drafting comments on regulatory actions that will likely result in litigation, managing a complex site remediation, and advising on pre-litigation risk management to help a client avoid litigation.
Anthony: I’ve worked on a wide variety of cases, including a CERCLA remedial design cost allocation, products liability and toxic torts matters, and an administrative appeal of a Clean Water Act NPDES permit. Over the past three years, I have worked primarily overseas on the DOJ-appointed Independent Corporate Compliance Monitor and Audit matter arising out of the Volkswagen AG diesel emissions proceedings.
How did you choose this practice area?
Nessa: I went to law school because I knew I wanted to do environmental litigation. I chose to practice at B&D because of the extraordinary breadth of environmental work and knowledge at the firm and because the specialized nature of the firm meant that people come to us with complicated and difficult issues that are often on the cutting edge of not just environmental law, but law in general.
Anthony: With my undergraduate background in environmental geoscience and chemistry, I knew going into law school that I wanted to be an environmental lawyer. My practice areas developed in tandem with my various matter assignments. Coming into the firm as a first-year associate, I knew I wanted litigation experience. B&D was responsive in assigning me work where I had an interest. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to try new practice areas and see which areas I enjoyed the most. I’m still in the process of homing in on what I’d like my practice to look like, and the firm has equipped me with tools to do so.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Nessa: While I don’t have a “typical” day, I do tend to have a lot of calls and meetings. During the pandemic, I seem to have even more calls and meetings than usual because there is no travel and no running into people in the halls. Some might find that draining, but I actually enjoy the interaction. I do a fair bit of editing other people’s work product, including client memos, briefs, and emails. And I draft my own work product too. Pre-pandemic, I had more court hearings and depositions, but those have trailed off significantly since the beginning of the pandemic.
Anthony: I can’t say that there’s any typical day, and I enjoy it that way. Days are usually peppered with meetings, both internally and with clients, and legal research is a weekly staple. But my work schedule varies considerably. That said, over the course of the pandemic, life has become much more repetitive and predictable, but prior to quarantine life, I traveled quite a bit for work, which made every day a bit different.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Nessa: In terms of classes, I’d recommend paying attention in Civil Procedure and Legal Research and Writing! Also, Federal Courts, Class Actions, Administrative Law, and core environmental law classes are those I’ve found most useful in my practice. I did not do a judicial clerkship, but knowing what I know now, I wish I had and recommend it as a useful experience for any litigator. A key skill for litigators is clear and persuasive writing. I also firmly believe that developing strong communication and time-management skills is critical for success.
Anthony: Sharpening writing skills and learning efficient legal research tactics are crucial, so it behooves anyone to practice those skills as much as possible. As far as classes go, Administrative Law and Corporations and Partnerships are very helpful since so much of environmental law involves those areas. The more exposure you can get to different areas of environmental law, the better. This field of law touches virtually all industries and looks like much more than just traditional litigation.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Nessa: I have always loved science, and I particularly enjoy the challenge of taking complex scientific issues and distilling them into something that can be readily understood by a non-scientific audience. I also particularly enjoy working with a huge range of people who are incredibly knowledgeable in their fields. That includes colleagues at B&D, co-counsel at other firms, in-house and government lawyers, experts, scientists, and more. It is fascinating, and I learn something from almost everyone I work with that makes me a better lawyer.
Anthony: Environmental law certainly isn’t boring. Because so much of it is impacted by new technological, scientific, and political developments and changes, environmental law is constantly changing. Its multidisciplinary nature is mentally stimulating and frequently presents challenging questions that need innovative solutions. Because of its scope, I also like the opportunity to make positive changes on a global level.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
Nessa: I think litigators are characterized as harsh or mean, with huge egos. That fits some, for sure, but overall, that’s not been my experience.
Anthony: I think there can be a misconception sometimes that practicing environmental law in private practice solely involves defense work. In my experience, oftentimes, clients are looking for the most efficient and reasonable solution, which involves protecting human health and the environment.
How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?
Nessa: It will be interesting to see if the change in administration at the federal level results in states ratcheting down regulatory and enforcement efforts that have stepped up over the past few years. Plaintiffs’ lawyers are always coming up with new types of claims and legal theories, and I expect more of the same going forward. I think there will increasingly be tension between use of chemicals and products that are critical to safety, efficiency, and reduction of greenhouse gases—which people view as indispensable—and the desire to reduce the use of and exposure to chemicals. Some lawsuits may have the unintended consequence of getting rid of a chemistry or product that has critical uses and for which there is no adequate substitute.
Anthony: I only see this practice area growing significantly in the future. In general, environmental regulations at the state and federal level continue to increase in scope and stringency, and almost every major company now has some commitment to monitor or, oftentimes, reduce its environmental impact. In addition, with technological advances revolutionizing industries like energy and transportation, there are likely to be new environmental legal regimes poised for environmental lawyers to tackle. Further, the new administration has also made it clear that environmental issues like climate change and environmental justice are a top priority, and so I expect there to be much more movement in that area in the future.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm?
Nessa: I summered at B&D and felt the experience provided excellent insight into what it is like to work at the firm as a new associate. The program provides summer associates with exposure to a wide variety of substantive work in the different areas of environmental law, including discussions with each practice group about the work in that area of law. We provide various trainings to our summer associates (and all of our lawyers). Because we are not a huge firm, the social component of the summer program is an important way for a summer to get to know us and us to know them.
Anthony: Having participated in the program, I can vouch that summer associates get an experience very similar to that of first-year associates. The firm gives summer associates as much substantive legal work as possible, balancing the summer associates’ interests and the goal of exposing them to as many practice areas and attorneys as possible. They almost always conduct legal research, draft memos, and join client meetings, to name a few.