Job Watch: Environmental law

You’d have had to have been hiding under a rock to miss the Battle of Balcombe – hoards of environmentalists kicking up a storm over fracking in a small Sussex village. In fact, shale gas extraction, mining, oil and gas have all been hot topics in recent months, and each has its own environmental repercussions. Does this mean demand is increasing for environmental lawyers? Taylor Root senior consultant Justin Gyphion says this is simply not the case.

“The market for environmental law is at a low ebb and is significantly lower than it has been in years gone by,” he says.

Gyphion puts the blame firmly at the feet of Japan’s Fukushima catastrophe, which he believes “quickly obliterated” a spike in environmental law roles that was present in the market two or
three years ago.

However, if job-hunters cast their eyes past nuclear energy, they are likely to unearth a wealth of opportunities. According to RedLaw Recruitment senior consultant Tarnjeet Purewal, “there is a growing importance on environmental issues for businesses, which can centre on pollution or contamination, climate change, habitat protection, sustainability, energy efficiency, waste and the use of renewables”.

Changes in legislation are also having a knock-on effect on demand for legal specialists with expertise in the sector. “In recent years, law firms have sought to build independent environment teams that focus on this area specifically, rather than drawing on lawyers on a matter-by-matter basis from various disciplines across the firm,” Purewal notes.

If energy floats your boat,
you’re best to look to the City. “There has been a drive for environment lawyers among the larger City firms, particularly magic circle and silver circle firms,” Purewal says.

While there is some action involving those in the mid-tier, most of these firms are looking to replace individuals or add environmental expertise to other practice areas, rather than building up their own dedicated teams.

As with so many practice areas, mid-level jobseekers are in the market’s sweet spot. However, Gyphion notes that a number of junior environmental roles have also cropped up of late, bringing opportunities for newly qualified lawyers of between six months and three years PQE.

If you’re chomping at the bit
to score that perfect environmental job, ensure you have plenty of experience. Purewal advises that most firms highlight those who have given advice on climate change, low carbon technologies and carbon trading. They are also looking for those who have ”undertaken a wide variety of environmental work” Purewal adds.

Plus, many environmental teams at larger firms work very closely with their corporate and projects teams on deals including transactional M&A and project and asset financings. Candidates who have experience in those areas but with an added layer of environmental knowledge “will always be in high demand”, concludes Purewal.