Sustainable Development in Law Practice: A Lens for Addressing All Legal Problems

A small but growing number of lawyers identify themselves as doing sustainability work.  In the Martindale-Hubbell online directory of lawyers, in which lawyers list their areas of practice, 759 U.S. lawyers identify sustainability or sustainable development as a practice area.  But what do they do?

Is sustainable development just the latest way of relabeling what is otherwise a conventional environmental or energy law practice, or are these lawyers doing something different?

To answer that question, I conducted structured interviews with 26 lawyers who practice or have practiced law related to sustainability.  These lawyers are from all over the country, and their law practices are very diverse.  My recently published Denver Law Review article about these interviews provides a first assessment of what this work actually entails.

The article describes what these lawyers understand sustainability or sustainable development to mean–which is much more than a relabeling of environmental or energy law. For these lawyers, sustainable development is a lens, prism, or tool for addressing all legal problems, not just a discrete subject area.

It explains who their clients are and what they do for them, and describes key personal and professional qualities of these lawyers — how they became interested, and what they like and do not like about doing work related to sustainability. By exploring what these lawyers see as obstacles to sustainability and where the jobs are in sustainability-related law, it also sheds light on the future of sustainability in law practice.

The insights in this article should be of particular value for practicing lawyers who want to move their practice in a more sustainable direction, to law students and other would-be lawyers, and to their clients.

The article is available here.