Boalt Hall's environmental law students are activists both on campus and off
by Erica Winter
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Third-year Boalt student Sky Stanfield chose the school expressly for the environmental law program and the certificate of specialization. Boalt's environmental program is distinguished by its location in the San Francisco Bay area, says Stanfield. It's a community with a high number of practicing environmental attorneys and environmental activism.
Boalt's program has good classes in the field, says Stanfield, and only lacks a legal clinic focusing on environmental law. That could soon change, however, with an effort underway to introduce a clinic to an already-strong environmental law program. Getting a clinic going is "one of the primary goals of the program," says Stanfield.
Students are contributing to the clinic's development by researching other law schools' public interest clinics and comparing various models against Boalt's needs. Meanwhile, faculty members are handling the funding and logistics side of the planning. Current first-year law students may be able to take advantage of an environmental law clinic, says Stanfield.
There is a new Dean at Boalt—Christopher Edley, Jr.—and a very active student body, says second-year law student Melissa Thrailkill. In addition to advocating for the development of the law clinic, members of the Environmental Law Society urged the school to bring in a lecturer on agriculture and environmental law. This past fall, Barclay Rogers, with the Sierra Club, San Francisco, offered the course, said Thrailkill. "There was a lot of student interest in that."
Dean Edley, formerly a Harvard Law professor who is known for his civil rights and public policy work, has pinpointed environmental law as being a big issue in the future, says Thrailkill, who sees an overall commitment at Boalt to strengthen the environmental law program. The upcoming changes are "exciting," even though she too will graduate before being able to take advantage of them.
Despite the lack of a clinic, Stanfield feels extremely well prepared by Boalt's program, with a good foundation to go out and practice environmental law. In addition to following the specific certificate curriculum, Stanfield is an articles editor at Boalt's Ecology Law Quarterly, a highly regarded publication. Also, the school helped her to connect with summer jobs, giving her a wide range of experience in the environmental law specialty.
For the summer after her first year, Stanfield went to Thailand, working for EarthRights International and doing research on the environmental legal aspects of the Alien Tort Claims Act. The organization has a project in nearby Burma (Myanmar) focusing on factory pollution and its effects on local people.
Last summer, Stanfield worked at the law firm Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, San Francisco. The firm represents nonprofit environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club, as well as public agencies, such as the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. The firm has its summer clerks work for a short time in several areas of the firm, says Stanfield, who did some work on cases involving takings litigation and work on the California Environmental Quality Act.
One legal issue in the Lake Tahoe region illustrates the environmental law specialty well, Stanfield explains. A temporary moratorium was put on development on Lake Tahoe to give the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency time to decide on a land-use plan for the area. Real estate owners sued, saying that they should be able to build or be compensated by the government. The United States Supreme Court Ruled on April 23, 2002 (Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council, Inc., et al. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency et al), that no compensation was necessary. Because the moratorium was temporary, it was not "takings of property" under the Takings Clause. Americans have "a rich sense of their property rights," notes Stanfield.
After graduation, Stanfield hopes to work with an environmental nonprofit or a law firm that works with them. With a particular interest in air pollution and climate change issues, Stanfield hopes to one day do international law. It will be "good to build up some expertise," she says, before setting out for other shores.
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