Environmental Lawyers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Classes in biology, chemistry, environmental studies, history, economics, English, computers, and foreign language are a solid basis for undergraduate studies in environmental law. Course work that emphasizes research, analytical thinking, and writing is recommended. The ability to argue a case and speak well in public is crucial to success in this job. Speech and debate classes will help hone your skills in this area. 

Postsecondary Education

An undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university is required to enter law school. Bachelor’s degree studies can be in a range of subjects. Environmental lawyers may have educational backgrounds in biology, political science, English, environmental policy, or agriculture. Science and engineering studies are especially useful because environmental law work involves reading and understanding scientific explanations about pollutants and other environmental issues.

Upon receiving their undergraduate degree, students take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) to gain entrance to a law school that is accredited by the American Bar Association. They attend law school for three years, taking classes that cover such topics as legal methods, civil procedure, criminal law and criminal procedure, and torts. They also take environmental law-related courses such as Environmental Law and Policy, Green Energy Policy, Land Transactions, and Land Use. Environmental law students also receive specialized training through internships with private law firms, government agencies, or nonprofit organizations that specialize in environmental law. Students who graduate from law school receive a juris doctor (J.D.) degree.

U.S. News & World Report ranks the best law schools that offer specialized training in environmental law. In 2019, the following schools (in descending order) were cited as offering the best environmental law programs: Lewis & Clark College, Pace University, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Los Angeles, Vermont Law School, Columbia University, Harvard University, Georgetown University, New York University, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Oregon, and University of Utah. 


Some lawyers choose to earn a master of laws (LL.M) degree, an advanced law certification that helps them advance professionally. LL.M programs, which typically last one year, are offered in many areas—such as energy/environment/natural resources and general law. A first law degree is required for admission to LL.M programs. Visit https://www.lsac.org/llm-other-law-program-applicants for more information. Visit https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/llm-degrees_post_j_d_non_j_d/programs_by_school for a list of LL.M. specialties and the law schools that offer them.

Other Education or Training

The American Bar Association, Association of Corporate Counsel, National Association for Law Placement, and state and local bar associations offer a variety of continuing education opportunities. Contact these organizations for more information. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The National Board of Trial Advocacy offers voluntary board certification in civil law, criminal law, and other areas. Contact the board for more information.

Courts in all U.S. states and jurisdictions require lawyers to be licensed, or admitted to the bar, as dictated by the rules of the jurisdiction’s highest court. Bar admission applicants are required to pass a written bar examination. In nearly all states, applicants must also pass a separate written ethics examination. A lawyer who has passed the bar in one state and wishes to practice in another state may be required to also take the second state’s bar exam. Other states may not require that lawyers take a second bar exam, provided the lawyers meet the jurisdiction’s standards of good moral character and have already practiced law for a certain amount of time. Requirements will vary by state, and federal courts and agencies set their own qualifications for those practicing before or in them.

To qualify for the bar examination in most states, an applicant must earn a college degree and graduate from a law school that is accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) or the proper state authorities. ABA accreditation is important because it means that the law school (especially its library and faculty) meets certain standards. Those who graduate from schools that are not approved by the ABA (most of these schools are in California) are usually restricted to taking the bar examination and practicing only in the state or other jurisdiction in which the school is located. 

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Experience as an environmental law intern is highly recommended.

A commitment to environmental issues is essential in practicing environmental law. The ability to deal with massive amounts of paperwork and reading and writing, as well as different types of people from various backgrounds, is critical. Creative, analytical thinking is required, and skill in translating complex information into content that is constructive and persuasive is important in preparing and presenting cases. Strong research skills are essential to the work. Environmental lawyers also spend a great deal of time reading books, magazines, reports, and journals to keep up with developments in the field, news about legal cases, and environmental issues. Other important traits for environmental lawyers include common sense and a calm disposition, because the job can sometimes be stressful as opposing parties meet and negotiate to try to find agreement on issues.