By Leslie Gordon
Berkeley Law today announced the launch of its new environmental law clinic, which will build on its existing scholarly expertise in environmental and natural resources law—and enhance its role as a national leader in clinical legal education. The clinic will offer its first programs in the 2015-2016 academic year..
“We have the best environmental law program, the best environmental law scholars, the best environmental law students, and the best environmental law journal in the country. The missing piece to bring it all together was a clinic,” said Professor Eric Biber, who was instrumental in the clinic’s development. “It’ll combine teaching, service and research, and make everything that’s already superb here even more superb.”
Furthering the goal of expertly preparing students for the highly competitive field of environmental law, the clinic will focus on climate change, water, biodiversity, and air quality projects. Students will engage in administrative practice, litigation, and policy analysis.
“The new clinic will leverage our strengths in environmental and natural resources law, expand experiential learning opportunities, and build synergies between the school’s teaching and research missions and to the rest of UC Berkeley,” Dean Sujit Choudhry said. “In the process, we’ll be serving society with important contributions to law and policy.”
Faculty unanimously approved the clinic last month. It will be the first new in-house clinic at the school in more than a decade, joining the Death Penalty Clinic, the International Human Rights Law Clinic, the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, and the East Bay Community Law Center as places where students can gain valuable hands-on experience working on pressing societal issues.
The clinic will take on a wide range of cases. These could include conserving biological diversity, protecting marginalized communities from toxic emissions, increasing the tribal role in managing culturally significant resources, and improving groundwater management.
In addition to engaging in sophisticated policy analysis, students will interview and counsel clients, draft comments on proposed rules, consult with expert witnesses, conduct legal research and discovery, negotiate with third parties, draft legal documents, and give oral arguments in administrative, legislative, and court hearings. To complement their field work, students will take a two-unit companion seminar.
Second-year student Eric DeBellis chose Berkeley Law precisely because of its environmental law program. “Environmental law is a complex, nuanced field where both classroom and hands-on experience are necessary to grasp how environmental practice operates,” he said. “With a clinic, students will get a more holistic experience by working through the whole process of putting advocacy into action from start to finish. This will put them in a considerably better position to start their careers as practitioners.”
With its location at UC Berkeley, Biber said the new clinic will be unique among other similar clinics, particularly because environmental issues are fundamentally interdisciplinary. “UC Berkeley is the best university in the United States for environmental work. Clinic students will work directly with campus leaders in environmental economics, business, science, and social science.”
According to Jeffrey Selbin, clinical professor of law and faculty director of the East Bay Community Law Center, the new clinic will “capitalize on Berkeley’s signature strengths as a top-ranked environmental law program, a leading environmental research center, a nationally-recognized clinical program, and a world-class public university.”
The plan for the clinic was developed collaboratively among clinical and environmental faculty, according to Professor Charles Weisselberg, associate dean for curriculum and teaching. “Faculty were excited by the clinic model, the learning opportunities it could provide, and the chance for students to engage in real environmental issues across California—if not the nation.”
A committee has begun a national search for the clinic’s director. “We’re looking for a dynamic and creative lawyer, teacher, and thinker who wants to build a first-rate clinic that makes a difference in the lives of clients and students,” said Selbin, who is chairing the committee. “We really expect it to be a crown jewel at the law school.”
Start-up funding for the clinic is coming from a generous donation by an anonymous family that cares about environmental law issues and the environment’s future.