How to Become an Environmental Lawyer


Career Path Guide

A career as an environmental lawyer can be a very exciting and fulfilling one. As this is a relatively young field of law and there is not much in the way of precedent, most cases that go to trial are groundbreaking. If you are interested in law, the environment and being part of an exciting new field, becoming an environmental lawyer may be the perfect career choice for you.


Below we've outlined how to get started in this profession. We've also included helpful supplementary information, such as a job description, an overview of the job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employer types and much more!



Education Needed to Become an Environmental Lawyer in Canada

In order to become an environmental lawyer in Canada, students must complete various stages of education.


Stage 1: The first stage is two to four years in an undergraduate (bachelor's) degree program. Recommended areas of study for a career in environmental law include, but are not limited to:


• Environmental Studies

• Environmental Science

• Business or Commerce

• Resource Management

• Philosophy


Stage 2: The second stage of education for prospective law students is completion of a three year Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from an accredited law school. Admission to law school is based on the Faculty of Law's assessment of the applicant's academic record, LSAT score and general qualifications. A bachelor's degree generally is required to gain admission into law school, although the minimum requirement is completion of at least two years of a program leading to a bachelor's degree or equivalent. Students seeking admission to law school must also write the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which is an aptitude test administered four times a year at a number of Canadian campuses.


Stage 3: Some provinces may require students to work for one full year as a student-at-law. This is a form of apprenticeship wherein the student enters into an agreement with a licensed practitioner of the provincial Bar, to provide the graduate with practical training in both barrister's and solicitor's work. Students are often paid modest salaries in these positions.


Final Stage: In order to become licensed law practitioners, articling students must successfully complete the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education program. This practical program covers several aspects of the law, and is typically offered several times per year.





General Job Description

Environmental lawyers are responsible for lobbying environmental interests to lawmakers in order to protect the environment from harmful individuals, companies and practices. They act as both advisors and legal advocates in the protection of the environment and natural resources. 


Environmental lawyers may either work for the prosecutor’s office or in private practice representing clients in criminal cases where charges have been laid as a result of alleged environmental infractions.



Typical Job Duties

• Prepare cases against individuals and organizations that cause harm to the environment through neglect or intentional practice

• Interview witnesses before hearings

• Confer with both parties to work out settlements

• Participate in public-interest lobbying and education programs

• Draft pleadings and correspondence

• Perform research pertaining to environmental legislation and court decisions

• Perform research that pertains to the details surrounding each specific case



Who Employs Environmental Lawyers?

In the past many law graduates began their careers with private practice environmental law firms, or on their own. However many young environmental lawyers are instead choosing employment with government, business, non-profit groups and post-secondary institutions.


There are a number of places environmental lawyers can work, including:


• Federal, provincial/territorial/state and municipal governments

• Private law firms

• Environmental consulting firms

• Self-employment (practice or consulting)

• Colleges and universities

• Research institutions

• Large firms in other industries, for example oil, gas and mining

• Insurance companies

• Not-for-profit, non-governmental, and international organizations





Career Advancement in This Field

Environmental lawyers who work in private law firms are sometimes able to become senior partners in their firm. Some may even be appointed to the Bench or to administrative tribunals. Those who work as legal advisors for the government may advance to positions as department heads or diplomats.


Some environmental lawyers may end up combining their education and experience in law with education and experience in related areas, such as environmental science. Such lawyers can go on to work in such professionals as lobbyist.



How Much Do They Earn?

It's difficult to determine how much environmental lawyers make, as it is very difficult to acquire accurate information regarding the salary levels of these specialized lawyers. To get a general idea of the salary range for environmental lawyers, we can look at salary figures for lawyers in general.


Environmental Lawyer Salary - Canada: According to ECO Canada, entry-level environmental lawyers typically earn between $60,000 and $75,000 per year in Canada. They also state that an environmental lawyer with several years of experience can make an average of $172,000 per year.


Salary - United States: The U.S Labor and Statistics reports that the median salary for the occupational group Lawyers, which includes environmental lawyers, is $112,760 USD per year.


Please Note: Salary levels can vary greatly, depending on the level of education, who the employer is, and the amount of experience of the lawyer.



Environmental Lawyer Jobs

Our job board below lists current opportunities in your area - give it a try!




Similar Careers in Our Database

Listed below are career guides for professions that are similar in nature to 'environmental lawyer', as they involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Corporate Lawyer

Environmental Consultant

Environmental Manager

Environmental Policy Officer

Environmental Scientist





Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as an environmental lawyer.


Occupations in Alberta: Lawyer.” (March 31, 2019). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 16, 2019.

Legal:Lawyers.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 16, 2019.

Career Profiles:Environmental Lawyer.” (n.d.). ECO Canada website. Retrieved November 16, 2019.

Expertise:Environmental Lawyers.” (n.d.). Stikeman Elliot website. Retrieved November 16, 2019.


Please Note: Much of the information for this career guide was gathered from actual job postings, which due to the brief nature of their online presence, are not listed here as sources.



Scholarships for Becoming an Environmental Lawyer

Scholarships in our system that are relevant for becoming an environmental lawyer are all of those can be found on the following pages:


• Biology Scholarships

• Botany Scholarships

• Environmental Engineering Scholarships

• Environmental Science Scholarships

• Geology Scholarships


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Areas of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming an environmental lawyer. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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