I worked as a Graduate Fellow at the Conservation Law Center for two years directly after law school. During that time, I gained a wide range of experience in conservation law, took on significant responsibility, and mentored students in the Conservation Law Clinic. If you want to make a difference for the environment and develop the skills to be an effective lawyer, I highly recommend the Graduate Fellow program at the CLC.
I enjoyed great responsibility over projects at the CLC. Bill and Jeff initially assigned me portions of their cases, such as sections of briefs or memos on specific legal issues. As I gained more experience, they trusted me to handle cases on my own, including assisting conservation organizations with tax, property, and nonprofit governance questions. The CLC encouraged me to identify potential projects and make them my own. I was the lead attorney on a number of comments to federal agencies, including comments urging increased protection for streams impacted by coal mining, critiquing plans for oil and gas permits in National Wildlife Refuges, and addressing serious flaws in a plan to permit significant impacts on endangered birds and bats from wind farms across the Midwest. I also coauthored a winning brief in a D.C. Circuit case arguing for greater protections for endangered bats impacted by wind turbines, helped prepare for the oral argument, and sat at the counsel table in the D.C. Circuit. It’s rare to have these opportunities so soon out of law school.
During the second year of my fellowship, I gained firsthand experience in clinical legal education by teaching law students in the Conservation Law Clinic. The process of crafting an assignment based on my caseload, managing interns, and grading student work made me think more deeply about my own cases and writing. Bill and Jeff also encouraged me to assist in their seminars. I taught one class in a seminar developed by another Graduate Fellow on legal protections for endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales and created and partially taught a seminar on skills for conservation lawyers.
My experience as a Graduate Fellow led to, and constantly assists, my current job as an Assistant Attorney General in the Environmental Division of the Tennessee Attorney General’s office. The leadership opportunities at the CLC showed I could handle my own caseload and the broad range of legal issues I worked on as a Fellow highlighted the breadth of my experience. Most of all, the CLC drove home how important quality legal work is. With the natural world on the line, you can’t afford to bumble through a case. The CLC taught me what it means to zealously represent clients and the environment.