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Becoming an Environmental Lawyer in the UK

— August 17, 2020

Becoming an environmental lawyer might be a long journey depending on the path you choose to take, but it is one of the most rewarding career options, from both a personal and financial viewpoint.

Environmental law is a blanket term that covers many different legal areas of focus. Lawyers who practice environmental law usually focus on species protection, water and air quality, hazardous waste disposal, waste management, green initiatives and so much more. In essence, environmental lawyers fight for our wellbeing as well as that of the planet. This means that if you would like to become one, you need to care deeply about your fellow humans as well as the environment. As the threat from global warming, pollution and nature’s destruction grows larger, you might be interested in joining the fight for our planet and its limited and precious resources. 

If you want to play your part in this war, here is a high-level overview of how to become an environmental lawyer in the United Kingdom. 

What Do Environmental Lawyers Do?

Environmental lawyers work with different entities, including the government and private companies and businesses, to ensure everyone is complying with environmental law. These regulations and legislations are in place to ensure everyone has as little negative effect on the environment as possible.

What Do You Need to Study to Become an Environmental Lawyer?

In the United Kingdom, there are two main paths you could take. One of these options is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Law. Once you complete this degree, you will have a full understanding of the law and the legal system. Depending on the university you attend, you might also learn about different electives, which might include environmental law or other similar disciplines.

This is the most common and easiest path people take. To get on it, you need to find universities that offer law undergraduate courses and you can compare different courses that are offered by different universities on University Compare. University Compare’s list of law courses includes courses that are offered by top universities in the UK. 

The second path you could take is the postgraduate route. Here, you could take an undergraduate degree in any discipline and after graduation, undergo what is informally known as “law conversion”. Formally, you take a Graduate Diploma in Law or a Common Professional Examination. Both of these require a one-year commitment and teach principles of law and give you a better understanding of the legal system.

Choose the Type of Lawyer You Want to Become

In the UK, you need to choose between becoming a barrister or a solicitor. Becoming either of these require that you first complete your professional education. Your profession as a barrister will be regulated by the Bar Standards Board while the Solicitors Regulation Authority regulates solicitors.

Barristers represent others in court, give legal advice and draft court documents. Solicitors, on the other hand, provide services to common people, including companies, individuals and other bodies. Solicitors mostly offer guidance on legal processes and proceedings, solve personal and business issues and manage cases. Since they are not advocacy specialists, they will often call a barrister when they need a second opinion.

Where Do Environmental Lawyers Work?

Options vary and are often dedicated by the opportunities you have available to you. Most graduates looking to get into environmental law work with private firms for a few years. This is so that they have a better understanding of the law and legal system and so that they can gain some experience. In these private law firms, it is likely that the graduate will focus on much more than environmental law. 

After they have some experience, they can then move on to a specialised environmental law firm. It is very important that environmental lawyers first get general lawyering experience so that when they have to deal with the narrower scope of environmental law, they are able to handle it.

Why You Should Become an Environmental Lawyer Now

The Earth is under siege right now with higher pollution levels and environmental destruction than what has happened over the past 200 years. Environmental lawyers are defenders of the Earth from more destruction. Next, there is a shift to a greener economy. This means that there will be a number of consultancy and legal roles for those who choose to work with industries that are switching to green and eco-friendly strategies and practices.

A 2012 EPA infographic demonstrating the role of greenhouse gases in global warming.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which captures solar radiation and heats the Earth, as the EPA described in this 2012 graphic. Public domain image created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Due to the higher demand for environmental lawyers, there is a rise in the salaries of environmental lawyers. Depending on the firm you work for, your average salary might start at £60,000.

Even with the demand for environmental lawyers and the financial reward that comes out of it, it is also rewarding to make a change in the communities you come from and interact with. You will be directly involved in making the world a better place; few people can say they are doing that.

Becoming an environmental lawyer might be a long journey depending on the path you choose to take, but it is one of the most rewarding career options, from both a personal and financial viewpoint.

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