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Environmental Lawyer
Environmental law is a relatively new and exciting field in which to work, having evolved rapidly over the last thirty years. An environmental lawyer is an attorney that focuses on litigation having to do with a broad range of environmental concerns. Examples include air and water quality, climate change, land use and agricultural issues, parks, game reserves and wilderness preservation, wildlife and biodiversity protection, as well as problems concerned with resource extraction and transportation, chemicals and pesticides and waste disposal.

It is important to remember that environmental law is merely the application of law on environmental issues. An environmental lawyer therefore applies the law of contract, law of delict, common law, public law, administrative law, criminal law, statutory interpretation, procedural law etc. on matters that affect the environment.
Environmental law as such is not driven by a particular environmental protection sentiment. An environmental lawyer is most likely to end up working for mines and industry.

Although an environmental lawyer may find him/herself in a position to assist government and other institutions to draft, the bulk of environmental legal work is often in service of entities who have an impact on the environment.
An environmental lawyer may be required to defend a person / company who is accused of contaminating land, air, soil or has negatively impacted on people or property in criminal prosecution matters, or to ensure that their operations are not shut down by relevant authorities.
Often, many workshops and presentations are held for industry, consultants and government.
Environmental lawyers also perform environmental due diligence evaluations in mergers and acquisitions and are often required to perform routine environmental audits and compliance assessments for industrial clients.

It is very important to note that environmental law is mostly practiced in the corporate environmental where it has to integrate with commercial law.

Many of their instructions aim to protect vulnerable industries and developers from in-equitable, unreasonable or incorrect enforcement of environmental laws against them by government.

An environmental lawyer has to be able to work with a wide range of natural scientists including engineers, geologists, toxicologists, animal plant and biodiversity specialists. As such an environmental lawyer has to have the ability to assimilate technical information at an enormous pace and to pragmatically incorporate such information in a legal context to find a solution for a client, sometimes under extreme pressure.

Sometimes, an environmental lawyer has clients who pursue a pure “green” agenda when they can afford to, and engage their personal convictions and love for the environment. However, it is generally a passion for law, not environmental protection as such, that determines success.

An environmental lawyer may also deal with issues such as environmental impact planning, and sustainable growth and development. Environmental lawyers may find themselves having to take on unscrupulous developers whose actions cause or threaten the extinction of species, pollution of groundwater, or destruction of precious cultural heritage sites. They may argue or engage in litigation on behalf of workers or local residents to prevent pollution or other environmental hazards that put people’s health at risk.

To summarise, environmental lawyers use their legal skill and training to develop policies and engage in litigation that prevents serious environmental damage, enforces environmental clean-ups, and ensures that people who have suffered harm or loss as a result of environmental contamination are adequately compensated. Environmental lawyers play a key role in the system of checks and balances to prevent government and big business from engaging in practices that undermine the natural environment, and harm people in the process.

Examples of cases handled by an environmental lawyer include those involving toxic mould in homes, builder negligence, illnesses resulting from companies’ negligence or willful contamination of water and air, and litigation against the government to clarify or compel the enforcement of environmental regulations.

Environmental lawyers work in a variety of settings. Most law offices are quiet and comfortable. Lawyers also travel to the sites of complaints, to courtrooms record-rooms or archives.

• have good listening skills and patience
• be able to handle a large amount of facts and see patterns in large bodies of evidence
• have a well-developed sense of fairness and justice
• be able to solve problems
• be able to handle stress and pressure
• be able to elicit trust and respect from clients and colleagues
• be able to persuade others to a specific point of view helps to win court cases
• be able to communicate effectively both orally and in written documents.
• be able to explain difficult legal concepts in easy terms
• be able to argue persuasively for their client’s case

School Subjects
National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

Compulsory Subjects: English
Recommended Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences

Degree: BA/BSc LLB with Environmental Law as a subject - all universities - RU, US, Wits, UZ, UJ, UFH, UCT, UWC, NMMU, UL, NWU, UV, UFS, UNISA.

A first bachelor’s degree including Ecology or Environmental Science would be good preparation for a career in environmental law. Useful minor courses could be in Political Science and Government.

A Certificate in Environmental Law is offered at UP.
In some cases, you can earn a master’s degree alongside a law degree. A master’s degree in planning, development, ecology, environmental studies, or a related field makes an excellent addition to a law degree if you plan to build a career in environmental law.

• Department of Justice
• private practice in legal firms
• government
• NGOs or other civil society agencies
• self-employment, environmental lawyers can work with the general public affected by environmental issues

Law Society of South Africa
P O Box 36626
Menlo Park, 1729
304 Brooks Street
Menlo Park
Tel: (012) 366-8800 Fax: (012) 362-0969

Environmental Law Association (ELA)
ELA Secretariat,
Faculty of Law (NWU)
Private Bag X6001
Potchefstroom, 2520
Tel: (018) 299-1921 Fax: (018) 293-5111,za

Environmental Laws and Legislation in South Africa

Information sponsored by GreenMatter.