How to Make It as an Environmental Lawyer

How to Make It as an Environmental Lawyer

There are many obstacles facing a recent graduate of environmental law. Many law graduates mass-produced in this country were poorly advised to choose the legal profession, since they find that in the face of extraordinary student debt, they have few advantages…a degree from a top tier law school, a top class rank, top official contacts, and top green law firm experience is just the benchmark for establishing a practice in today’s legal market.

Besides possessing luck and an impeccable work ethic, the successful environmental lawyer must be familiar with acts of self-denial. The successful environmental lawyer is a lawyer in his or her every waking moment. He or she must be competitive, familiar with many areas of law, adaptable in areas of technical expertise, and exact and unabashedly sanguine when it comes to contracting his or her unique repertoire of skills. These skills cover case management, transactional leadership, discovery and trial strategizing, strategic financial planning, qualified representation and counseling, and effective negotiation. From August through December, I witnessed the daily demands of a competitive environmental law firm, Carvalho & Associates, P.C., in Marietta, Georgia.

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As an intern and legal assistant to environmental attorney Michael P. Carvalho, who heads Carvalho & Associates, I was exposed to many areas of environmental law. Michael P Carvalho, Esq., has a comprehensive background in energy law, renewables policy, land use planning, real estate matters, regulatory compliance, hazardous waste treatment, brownfields assessments and redevelopment, stormwater management, risk assessment, and environmental impact statements. He is a well-practiced trial lawyer in state and federal courts and is licensed to practice in Georgia, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, and Michigan.

Michael P. Carvalho, Esq. Photo Credit: Carvalho & Associates, P.C.
Michael P. Carvalho, Esq. Photo Credit: Carvalho & Associates, P.C.

In 2012, Mr. Carvalho celebrated a record-setting, $5.2 million judgment against a developer for environmental remediation costs, stormwater damages to property owners, and punitive damages. Prior to this, Mr. Carvalho tried a case that won the highest state jury verdict in a stormwater case at $2.5 million in 2011, which was upheld after appeal in 2013. In a separate case in 2011, he set a record for the highest sanctions for spoliation of evidence in the legal history of Georgia.

Mr. Carvalho has authored many works in environmental policy, from vapor intrusion policy to environmental “due diligence”, and has been honored with membership on the Board of the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) and on the National Brownfield Association’s Planning Committee for the National Brownfields Conference. With his vast experience and expertise, Mr. Carvalho held high expectations of everyone working for his firm, but his expectations were laced with confidence in the individuals whom he entrusted to serve him. I was gratified to learn everything I could in his service about the court system, legal proceedings, and environmental case law and regulations, and to contribute meaningful work.

The firm manages and reviews case logistics daily, and I was quickly immersed in large case files, containing easements, hydrology studies, civil drawings, permits, conveyances and many other documents that I was tasked with learning. While working with a team of associates, legal assistants, and consulting experts on many deadlines, I was exposed to a high-intensity operation. A part of a fluid operation is each: problem-solving, detective work, and organizational perfectionism. A good day was a good day for all in the team.

My responsibilities to the team included legal researching through LexisNexis, scheduling appointments and deadlines, drafting and preparing pleadings for court filings, managing case files, researching and preparing exhibits for deposition, submitting requests for public documents, and cataloguing case-relevant data. I gained from this experience an understanding of the complexity of evidence and preparation involved in environmental litigation and an appreciation of the role of case law, and individual attorneys, in shaping environmental regulations.

With new methods of analyzing environmental contamination and its impacts, the weight of evidence has shifted over the history of case law, and, with citizen provisions, it has shaped environmental law into its present form. Such is the case with the evolution of toxic waste regulation from RCRA to CERCLA, SARA and subsequent federal and state brownfields amendments. The work of Carvalho & Associates has demonstrated to me that “common” case law is still progressive in both setting standards for enforcement of environmental laws and demonstrating where environmental laws, in themselves, are inadequate for protecting rights to natural resources, human health, and the environment. This is the big picture that gives meaning to the hard labor of the determined environmental attorney.

I want to thank Michael P. Carvalho, Esq; Jennifer L. Pennington, Esq; and K.J. for their professional wisdom and guidance during my employment at Carvalho & Associates, P.C.

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