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Environmental law can differ greatly depending on an attorney’s client base; one can work for a public interest group or firm to fight to preserve the environment or can represent companies to navigate environmental regulations. On either side, the practice heavily involves regulations and laws at the national, state, and local level. Practitioners in this area should be comfortable with science as well as politics, which both figure heavily into the practice. Environmental lawyers for public interest groups can work long hours for little pay and feel that they are always fighting deeper pockets. Lawyers representing companies can feel frustrated by the regulations that prevent commercial activity. In large firms, many real estate, energy, and project finance lawyers will deal with environmental regulations in their deals, and litigators representing companies in these sectors will also deal with environmental issues. Among areas environmental lawyers may handle include air quality, chemicals regulation, California’s environmental standards, contamination, hazardous materials, insurance, natural resources, mining, occupational safety and health, Superfund, sustainability, toxic torts, water, wildlife protection, and more.

Featured Q&A's
Get an insider's view on working in Environmental Law from real lawyers in the practice area.
Madeleine Boyer, Principal • Dacie Meng, Associate
Beveridge & Diamond, PC

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Maddie: I divide my practice between domestic and Latin American environmental law. My domestic work involves regulatory counseling and enforcement defense, primarily relating to air and waste regulations. My Latin American practice focuses on product compliance and stewardship and circular economy issues.

Dacie: My practice focuses on end-of-life management of plastics, packaging, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and other products in the U.S. and globally. I regularly work with clients on circular economy and extended producer responsibility initiatives around the world.

What types of clients do you represent?

Maddie: Firm clients are primarily multinational corporations from the energy, refining, manufacturing, chemical, and retail sectors. We also represent a number of municipalities.

Dacie: I work with clients from the technology, pharmaceutical, retail, and chemical sectors.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Maddie: My enforcement portfolio typically involves fairly high-stakes cases that result in technically complex settlements and sometimes move to litigation. For example, I handle several matters before the U.S. Department of Justice under the EPA’s Flaring Enforcement Initiative. Those cases involve significant injunctive relief and penalties that can run into the hundreds of millions. My product stewardship portfolio helps clients understand the host of new requirements in Latin America applicable to their products and generally involves obtaining registrations and permits for import-export, take-back, and recycling. Latin American rules are, in many ways, more advanced than those of the U.S.

Dacie: I support the development of product stewardship programs across the country in compliance with extended producer responsibility legislation. This work includes review of hazardous waste, transportation, contracting, and other issues. I also counsel clients on requirements governing transboundary shipments of products for reuse, repair, and recycling in compliance with international and domestic requirements. As a final example, I help draft public comments on proposed regulations addressing emerging contaminants.

How did you choose this practice area?

Maddie: I was always interested in environmental and international issues. I went to law school when NAFTA was being negotiated and the first environmental side agreement to a trade deal came into play, bringing these two issues together. They have remained compelling to me since.

Dacie: I studied environmental engineering in college and went to law school knowing that I wanted to study environmental law, focusing on the interface between science and the law. I knew that this field would present opportunities to engage with interesting scientific and legal developments, and I certainly haven’t been disappointed.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Maddie: No day or issue is the same. But in general, I typically spend time in meetings with clients or government officials (in person or by phone/video conference), as well as researching or reviewing the research of others; developing legal and strategic advice (by memo or email); preparing trainings or CLE presentations; and attending to firm matters, like business development, recruiting, pro bono, or diversity and inclusion efforts.

Dacie: I agree that there is no typical day. My days often consist of research on regulatory and legislative developments; analysis of potential application to and strategic options for clients; and calls, meetings, and emails with client teams to report out on that work. I also dedicate time to the firm’s Women’s Initiative, recruiting committee, and other activities.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Maddie: I strongly recommend governmental agency experience. Environmental law is substantively complex, as is its implementation. Having an inside view into the challenges that environment lawyers face in representing the government is invaluable and will help you become a more effective advocate for clients who need to interact with governments. And it’s not just adversarial—you will have developed a strong network of contacts who can often help solve clients’ problems.

Dacie: To be a good environmental lawyer, you have to be a good lawyer. To be a good lawyer, it’s important to learn the basics by studying administrative law, statutory interpretation, and similar topics.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

Maddie: The most challenging aspect is that issues are typically complex, unique, and often exigent. If the questions were easy, there would be no reason to seek outside legal counsel. On the other hand, this same challenge is also what makes the practice engaging. No two questions are the same.

Dacie: A single matter can involve any number of environmental and other laws, requiring significant breadth and depth of knowledge to spot the issues relevant to clients. Working somewhere like B&D, however, means that you have access to the foremost experts on many of these topics, and you are able to support clients on the full suite of environmental issues affecting them.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Maddie: It is multidisciplinary. All environmental law involves some aspect of science, economics, public policy, law, and psychology. The practice involves issues that are very interesting and real world.

Dacie: Environmental law is always evolving—there are new and emerging contaminants, changing priorities for regulators and companies, and novel regulatory and legislative schemes. These developments provide exciting opportunities to help clients and engage on challenging and new issues along the way.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Maddie: We are the first and largest law firm in the U.S. (and the world) that is dedicated exclusively to practicing environmental law at the nationwide and global level. We were founded by the EPA’s first administrator and have kept our focus on environmental law since. It is extraordinary to work alongside so many specialized lawyers, many of whom are thought leaders in their field.

How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?

Maddie: Environmental law is in an extraordinarily dynamic time and is resurging in global importance. For many years, environmental law focused on regulating industrial concerns at their source and was not of wide public or business concern. Climate change, emerging contaminants, and circular economy issues like human rights and plastic and electronic waste present complex global issues that are priorities for the industry, governments, and citizens. Their solution will require different approaches than traditional environmental regulatory regimes have provided.

Dacie: Environmental law is becoming increasingly integrated into other areas of the law and vice versa. Regulators and companies are innovating to solve complex and cross-cutting environmental challenges by putting forward novel interpretations for existing rules, in addition to developing new treaties, legislation, and regulations.

Madeleine Boyer, Principal, and Dacie Meng, Associate — Environmental

Madeleine (“Maddie”) Boyer chairs B&D’s International Environmental practice and co-chairs the firm’s Air & Climate Change practice. She began as an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC, office in 1999 before returning to Texas in 2005 to co-found the Texas office and serve as its first managing principal. Maddie is also a member of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee and maintains a pro bono political asylum and international human rights practice. Prior to joining B&D, Maddie was a staff attorney at the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (now the TCEQ) and interned with the Centro Méxicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA). From 1988-1990, she served in the United States Peace Corps in Guatemala.

Dacie Meng is a fourth-year associate in B&D’s Washington, DC, office. Before joining B&D, she received a J.D. and Master’s in Environmental Management from Duke University and clerked at EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. She maintains an active pro bono practice—focused on immigration matters—serves as a Deputy Chair of B&D’s Women’s Initiative, and sits on the Recruiting Committee and Technology & Innovation Committee.

Deidre Duncan, Partner
Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I co-lead and manage 50 environmental lawyers, a deep talent pool that includes lawyers who previously served inside various federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Energy. We’re experienced in the full range of regulatory and compliance issues arising from all federal and state environmental statutes, and we help clients contend with those myriad requirements.

We also advise energy and other infrastructure clients in securing the requisite permits to construct and operate projects across the country. In addition, we navigate crisis situations and defend clients against government enforcement actions.

Our environmental attorneys frequently cross over into other practices, aiding the firm’s Energy, M&A, and Real Estate departments, among others. We’re active litigators, too, having participated in more than 40 U.S. Supreme Court cases and hundreds of cases in the U.S. Courts of Appeals.

What types of clients do you represent?

Our environmental group represents companies across all parts of the energy industry, including interstate natural gas pipelines, electric utilities, and gas and coal export companies. For example, I lead our team of lawyers in advising the developers of the Sabal Trail Pipeline in a complex tri-state permitting process that cleared the way for construction that was completed in 2017.

I’m also counsel to agricultural and development interests, state and local agencies, and national trade associations. For example, I previously have been outside general counsel to the Waters Advocacy Coalition (WAC), a group of 60 national trade organizations that’s regarded as the leading industry voice on the Clean Water Act. I helped organize the Coalition, and I’ve supported it both in briefings before Congress and in the courts. I’ve argued against further changes to the landmark statute and in favor of judicial review when authorizations and permits are challenged. I represented groups within the WAC as amicus—for instance, in the Supreme Court case of Rapanos v. U.S., in which the high court rejected a broad government reading of the Clean Water Act.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Much of my work is for clients seeking project approvals under the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other laws governing federal permitting. I work with clients to ensure that their projects comply. For instance, I am leading the firm’s work for Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC on federal permitting matters involving its new mines and mine-extension projects in Florida. I am also leading our team’s work with Enbridge Inc. We are representing and advising them on federal permitting issues for several significant oil and gas transportation projects, including the construction of the country’s first offshore deep-water port dedicated to exporting oil. We are also representing Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC on environmental matters involving the construction and operation of approximately 301 miles of new pipeline and associated facilities, extending from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. These are just a few of the projects I am currently managing.

How did you choose this practice area?

I earned my B.A. on an Army ROTC scholarship, then deferred my required military service until after law school. With my J.D. in hand, I was accepted to a government honors program in environmental law with the Army as assistant general counsel of the Army at the Pentagon. That’s when I took my first deep dive into the Clean Water Act, advising the secretary of the Army on environmental and land use issues involved in the Corps of Engineers’ civil works projects. They involved everything from ambitious environmental restoration ventures and flood risk management initiatives to hydroelectric dams and municipal water supply systems. I also learned the nuts and bolts of the Corps’ so-called 404 regulatory program, referring to the portion of the CWA that governs discharge of dredge and fill materials into navigable U.S. waters.

I enjoyed applying my legal skills to the real-world environmental problems presented by high-impact infrastructure, water, and energy projects, and I thrived while mastering environmental rules and laws. When I decided to move into private practice, I couldn’t imagine being anything other than an environmental lawyer.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

I represent clients on calls and in meetings with federal and state agencies. I review clients’ project plans, thoroughly evaluating them for possible permitting and compliance issues. Clients often bring me in at the congressional level, too, asking me to draft rule refinements or proposed legislation that they can then run through their internal channels. I also defend clients and agencies that have been challenged in court.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Work within the government first. Through on-the-job training, you’ll learn how to interpret and apply environmental statutes and regulations and gain invaluable experience dealing directly with governmental and legislative agencies. That will make you much more effective in representing clients in private practice.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Our environmental practice began in 1970, and it’s among the oldest in the country. Acting on behalf of clients, our lawyers had a voice in the initial enactment and implementation of all of today’s federal and state environmental statutes. Since the CWA’s inception, we’ve played a role in every important rulemaking. The same can be said about our involvement in the Clean Air Act.

Our environmental group also generates its own work. That sets us apart from many other firms, where environmental attorneys primarily service other departments’ clients. We’re independent, and that gives us a lot of freedom.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

The team is diligent about making sure that our summer associates are integrated into hands-on work. While they do spend a lot of time researching and writing, they might also attend Hill hearings or a SCOTUS hearing. At times, they may be invited to a client meeting. Lateral associates bring with them an expertise in an area. We aim to bring on folks that will be able to do the kind of work that they already love and want to be doing.

How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?

I’m very enthusiastic. I would encourage any attorney with an interest in working on relevant, real-life issues to consider a career in environmental law. How we manage and care for our world’s environment is going to be increasingly important in the future. I see environmental law continuing to evolve and taking on a more pronounced role in business operations and policy.

How do you balance the different hats (from litigation to transactional work to regulatory matters) that an environmental lawyer must wear?

That’s one of the most fun and unique aspects of my job. On any given day, I might be called in by M&A partners to advise on environmental due diligence for a big acquisition. Or members of our Real Estate Development and Finance team might ask for my help on a power plant or other type of construction project. I also have the opportunity to practice before all three branches of government. I do have to tailor my approach to address the needs of my audience, but it’s not a difficult balance.

Deidre G. Duncan, Partner and Co-Head, Environmental Practice — Administrative Law

Deidre represents clients in permitting, compliance, and litigation relating to the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other federal environmental statutes. She works with clients on infrastructure and civil works projects, including matters involving funding, acquisition, and construction. She frequently advises clients on administrative rulemaking and policy, clarifying regulatory matters and drafting federal and state legislation on many intricate issues. She is also well known for negotiating and obtaining permits for complicated energy and development projects.

Deidre’s clients include development companies, oil and natural gas pipelines, electric utilities, agricultural entities, state and local agencies, and trade associations.

Prior to entering private practice, Deidre served for four years as assistant general counsel of the Army at the Pentagon, advising the secretary of the Army on environmental and land use issues involving the Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works projects and base closures. She has extensive experience dealing with federal regulatory agencies, military departments, and the U.S. Department of Justice. In addition, she has frequently been asked to brief and testify before Congress about possible changes to the Clean Water Act.

She writes for Hunton Andrews Kurth’s environmental and pipeline industry blogs.

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