On 15 March 2018, we were joined by Duncan Mitchell, Senior Lawyer at the Environment Agency (currently on secondment to DEFRA), and the first guest speaker in our new Environmental Law Seminar Series. Nathan, a second year law student at Anglia Ruskin, reflects on his impressions of the seminar.
If you had asked me before last week what it was that I thought an environmental lawyer does, I would have just said, 'Planning permission for land, maybe some anti-fracking stuff?' How wrong I would have been! Having attended the 'Taking the scenic route into environmental law' event, I would now be able to tell you with some certainty how much more there is to legal issues and careers surrounding the broad-reaching and fascinating area of environmental law!
Our guest speaker for this talk was the highly experienced Duncan Mitchell, Senior Lawyer at the Environment Agency’s Head Office Legal Team, who brought with him (unsurprisingly) a wealth of information regarding his chosen field. Duncan is currently on secondment in DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) as Head of Environmental Permitting and Liability - a role which he jokingly assured us is as interesting as it sounds.
As all lawyers love to do (at least that’s what he claimed), Duncan spoke primarily about his own work, and the path he took to get to where he is today, beginning with the statement that he ‘hadn’t ever intended to be a lawyer’! And yet throughout his career he has advised on numerous different areas surrounding pressing global environmental issues, such as climate change law, and has even acted as a national expert on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the European Commission. I took from this the reassuring fact that for those of us studying a law degree who also do not want to be lawyers ourselves, pursuing an area you are particularly interested in may, in fact, open up all sorts of opportunities, both within and outside of the legal sector- the key is to be active in engaging with whatever it is you are most passionate about.
Having some interest in the related area of animal welfare law myself, it was engaging, to say the least, to be able to discuss possible future entry points into this branch of our legal system with a seasoned professional, and being given the opportunity to do so face-to-face with Duncan has broadened my ideas as to how to go about starting a career relating to environmental law.
If I were to take away one key point from this talk however, it would be that I have learnt the importance of international and commercial awareness. Duncan started along his path with a languages degree at University, and now he has dealings with European and multi-national bodies regarding maintaining a sustainable future for the environment; I think the value of an international mindset cannot be stressed enough as it broadens your employment opportunities, as well as your attentions to prevalent world issues.
I hope I’ve persuaded some of you to be environmental lawyers yourselves, and if the arguments here haven’t persuaded you, but if I haven't done so yet, then do it because, as Duncan succinctly puts it, 'Fracking is bad'.
Nathan Allum Greenfield, LLB (Hons) Law, 2nd Year