The Footnotes

AGRICULTURE & ENVIRONMENT

A quick Q&A with an environmental lawyer

You don’t need to join the peace core to save the world

This year, the world will generate 2.6 trillion tons of rubbish. That’s the weight of about 7,000 Empire State Buildings. What’s worse? Only 2 per cent is recycled or turned into compost in countries like Australia. Go on let that sink in. We’ll wait.

And all this rubbish got us thinking… well, where’s it all gonna’ go? Are we ruining the world for future generations? What can we do to help? 

Meet JB, an Environmental lawyer that sues big corporations for water pollution.

FN: Why did you become an Environmental Lawyer?

JB: If someone had told me when I was in school that I would become a lawyer, I would have told them they were crazy. I had my mind set on environmental science, planning to become a marine biologist.

Post graduation, I never felt like my work was able to domino the change I was so passionate about, I was certainly an idealist.

I also liked the idea of using my science background for political ends – and I guess law seemed my best bet.

FN: That’s a big change!

JB: A lot of environmental lawyers actually have science background, whether they move from a Ph.D program into law, or are spurred by a desire to translate the scientific into social change and policy. In saying this, you do not need the scientific research knowledge to work as an environmental lawyer, just a passion and solid understanding of the policy aspects.

Before I began my degree I knew it [environmental law] was my calling, and twelve years on, I still sue water polluters.

FN: So what’s an average day at work?

JB: That’s a tough one, because they vary so much. But the main point is that litigators like me actually spend a minuscule amount of time in court. Most of our work involves phone calls, email, legal and factual research, document review, meetings, and writing. Once every few years, we go to trial, which requires months of tremendously intense effort.

But that’s not the same for everyone… there will be some people that exclusively look after urban issues such as transport, built form, servicing and infrastructure and others will have practices devoted to dealing with marine issues, others with soil and erosion.

I also liked the idea of using my science background for political ends – and I guess law seemed my best bet.

FN: What do you love about it?

JB: What I love about my job is that there are few areas of law that are so bound up with science.

And, there is an entire industry made up of environmental consultants, many of whom make their living from finding ways to minimise the appearance of risk from pollution, and some of the most satisfying parts of our work is to extract these applications from approval – and ensure that our environment is not jeopardised at the name of privatised production.

FN: Right… what does that mean in simple terms?

JB: Businesses often know that their work will cause damage to the environment and hire environmental consultants to make sure they are ‘just’ on the right side of the law.

I do not believe in ‘just’ being on the right side of the law, and want to promote the community to look at how we can make sure we leave enough in our water systems to make sure that we can maintain water quality. It’s really important to me. I really enjoy being part of that process.

FN: And, what are the challenges?

JB: In my work, the biggest challenges are rebutting the increasingly-sophisticated presentations of industry consultants, convincing judges that they should approve waste disposal practices, when I am asking them to be ruled dangerous.

FN: What’s your advice for someone wanting to work in the same industry?

JB: My advice, is to look for a double degree, for example Arts/Law, this will give you the freedom to study environmental majors or with a science combination.

I do not believe in ‘just’ being on the right side of the law.

FN: What makes someone successful in this industry?

JB: You need to demonstrate your commitment to the public interest, on top of just having a law degree. Be creative and persistent; and you’ll feel proud that you are making a positive impact on society.

Keen to get started? Check out our job finder.

A quick Q&A with an environmental lawyer
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