The Life and Career of Jennifer Gleason: Staff Attorney, Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (E-LAW), Eugene, OR
by Judith Earley
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By providing these necessary tools, E-LAW helps advocates serve low-income communities around the world; the advocates, in turn, aid citizens in strengthening and enforcing laws to protect themselves and their communities from toxic pollution and environmental degradation. Jennifer Gleason is a staff attorney for E-LAW.
"All over the world, communities are calling on us to help take better care of the environment—they want clean air, clean water, and green spaces. I enjoy helping these communities get a voice in decision-making and build a healthier future for their children," said Gleason.
Gleason graduated from the University of Oregon School of Law in 1993. "Being a lawyer is a good way to address the injustices of the world," said Gleason. "Later in life, I wanted to become a lawyer [in order] to help people living in other countries defend their right to live in a healthy environment—help them gain access to clean drinking water and clean air to breathe. I'm lucky to have a job doing just that.
During law school Gleason volunteered many hours at many organizations and believes that her volunteer work demonstrated a commitment to working in the public interest and helped her land her position at a nonprofit agency. And, she added, she had no background in environmental issues. "It probably would have been easier when I first started working to have had a scientific background," said Gleason. "Lucky for me, my organization has great scientists on staff who help lawyers understand the science that is critical to using law to protect the environment."
According to Gleason, funding—or a lack of it—is the greatest challenge facing attorneys working for nonprofit entities today. "Public interest lawyers around the world dedicate their lives to helping local communities defend their human rights to live in a healthy environment. These lawyers are smart, dedicated people working on behalf of grassroots NGOs and communities—facing well-funded opponents, as well as corruption in many cases. On top of everything else, these lawyers need to put too much effort into raising funds to pay for their work so that they can put food on their tables," said Gleason.
Gleason said that every day she is inspired by all the lawyers she works with around the world who do their work despite incredible obstacles, including death threats and political trouble. Closer to home, two of her law school professors, Mike Axline and John Bonine—both founders of E-LAW and currently on the board of directors—have been tremendous role models for her.
Since she has never worked in a law firm, Gleason said it's hard for her to make a comparison between traditional legal work and working for a nonprofit agency. "I'm not sure there is a difference between working with an environmentally focused agency or other types of nonprofits," said Gleason. "Working for a small nonprofit like E-LAW (nine staff members) means that you work closely with everyone on staff, and everyone pitches in when something needs to get done. It also means that you depend a lot on the help of volunteers. E-LAW has been blessed to have many dedicated volunteers helping us over the years."
According to Gleason, global warming is the most important environmental issue facing the world community today. "The impacts of climate change are, and will be, severe—and they will hit hardest in places that do not have the means to adapt to the changes. And, worst of all, these places are the places least responsible for changing the climate," said Gleason.
Gleason's advice for law students and attorneys who might be interested in environmental advocacy is to get involved. "Put down your books, and get involved in local issues. Not only will you get invaluable experience, but you'll make great connections, as well. The same advice would be true for lawyers. I can guarantee that there are people wanting legal help on environmental issues in any community," said Gleason.
Not only does Gleason love her job and enjoy going to work, but she also enjoys her time away from the office. "I live in Eugene, Oregon, which is a wonderful community with incredible access to the outdoors," said Gleason. "We have a beautiful coast and incredible mountains, all nearby. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends at the coast and in the mountains, hiking, biking, and canoeing. I am lucky to be married to a wonderful acupuncturist who has the skills to help release any stress I bring home." She and her husband are the proud parents of a three-month-old baby girl.
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