Inspite of an extensive body of environmental laws, a responsive judiciary and large groups and communities who are willing to litigate on issues of environmental concern, we have very few dedicated environmental lawyers in the country.
To be an environmental lawyer, all you need is an L.L.B. degree. There are some diploma courses offered by universities, but they are optional. If money is not an issue, then one could consider law schools abroad that have a good reputation for offering environmental law in their curriculum.
The main ingredient is to be deeply interested in and committed to environmental justice on issues ranging from forests and wildlife to toxics and environmental violations. It would be beneficial to be in touch with environmental groups to deepen one’s understanding of issues. An environmental lawyer must be prepared to visit remote areas to locate the exact nature of violation and meet project impacted communities, whether they are dam-displaced or those fighting to stop forest destruction.
The process can be really tough since one is generally battling either the government or the corporates, both being tough opponents with their battery of top lawyers. In most cases, clients will be struggling communities, individuals and even panchayats, trying to protect the last remaining forests, rivers and coasts. Good interaction skills are mandatory to communicate with these affected people. Firms and organisations that have a stake in environmental concerns such as chemical companies also need a legal team to guide them to follow environmental laws. Besides litigation, an environmental lawyer’s work may also include substantial training in environmental law and capacity building of people – NGOs, communities, forest officials among others. Training is an integral component since it helps them detect violations.
For a career decision, one of the most crucial questions that arises is “Do environmental lawyers make money? How do they sustain themselves?” Well, like any other profession, if you are hard working and innovative, you can definitely earn a decent income as an environmental lawyer.
To sum it up, environmental law is exciting and challenging, a ‘mission’ more than a ‘career’. In the cut-throat world of law, it gives a sense of fulfillment of being true to your personal convictions and truly making a difference.
With inputs from Ritwick Dutta, Advocate, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE)