As environmental, social and governance issues become more important to companies operating in Europe, lawyers with ESG expertise are in high demand and firms are looking for specialists who can help them manage this wave of deals for clients serve.
But it’s not that easy. In Europe, law firms expect job candidates to be at the door have the specialized training and experience needed to deal with the increasingly complex and technical laws that govern the environment. There isn’t much room to study on the job. The stakes are high, both for customers and for the planet.
And in the years to come, the lawyers these firms hire will be an integral part of wider practice areas – moving beyond the traditional public and administrative sector to include corporate and commercial law, tax, finance, intellectual property and dispute resolution, and legal permanent partners to say.
Environmental law is “an airplane that more or less everyone travels on,” Guido Callegari, a partner at De Berti Jacchia Franchini Forlani in Milan, told Law.com International.
In terms of legal education, each country in Europe has its own opinion on whether lawyers need a broad background to specialize in later, or whether they should start building their profile as an environmental lawyer right away.
In France, environmental law has been a recognized specialty for decades, and several French universities, including the prestigious Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, offer degrees in environmental law – a qualification that is “essential,” according to Louis-Narito Harada, partner at HK Legal, an environmental and energy law firm in Paris.
Environmental law is a very technical field today, said Harada, who practiced as a partner at Eversheds Sutherland for six years before co-founding HK Legal in 2021. In some programs, courses are taught by engineering professors that give law students a grounding in the fundamentals and language of environmental science — what, for example, particulate matter is and the criteria used to measure its concentration in the atmosphere.
Italy also has several highly regarded postgraduate programs in environmental law that include training in basic sciences – a must for any lawyer who needs to understand this part of their client’s business, according to Callegari.
“We can’t expect a lawyer to have the same scientific background as an engineer or a chemist, but they have to be reasonably familiar,” he said. “They need to know what they’re dealing with.”
While some universities in Germany offer electives in environmental law, aspiring practitioners have much more to offer their prospective employers than grades on a transcript, according to Dirk Uwer, a partner at Hengeler Mueller in Düsseldorf.
“When people come up to us and say, ‘I want to do ESG and environmental work [law]’They bring a whole package of thorough legal training – maybe even a PhD and published articles,’ said Uwer, adding that they also come with page-long resumes filled with research assistantships and other related work.
In addition, basic knowledge of public law and regulation is essential for the exercise of environmental law in Germany, said Uwer, co-head of public law at Hengeler Mueller. “You have to be a good lawyer in the truest sense of the word and have a very thorough understanding of how government and regulation works,” he said.
Harada agrees. Environmental advocates must master laws related to water use, genetically modified organisms, emissions, waste disposal and treatment, noise and even urban planning, he says. And they need to know how these laws work in real life and how they work within the system.
Environmental law is all law
While regulatory law is fundamental to environmental law, a full-service practice also offers tax advice on the financial impact of environmental regulations on businesses; employment advice for worker health and safety; Intellectual property consultancy for the protection of newly created technologies; and fundamental corporate and commercial law for the policies that companies must implement to adapt to new laws.
And in Italy, environmental advocates need to have more skills, said De Berti Jacchia’s Callegari. Her practice includes the protection of cultural heritage, reflecting the increasing focus of both the Italian government and international organizations such as UNESCO on the preservation of cultural heritage sites worldwide.
“Our heritage is part of our environment,” Callegari said. “And conservation includes issues that aren’t that different from environmentalism in general: air quality, water quality, sustainable use.”
If these lists sound daunting, it’s because the field of environmental law is becoming increasingly complex and specialized, lawyers say.
HK Legal’s Harada believes he will continue to see more work as clients begin to address a range of new environmental law issues, including greenwashing and consumer protection, carbon footprints and vigilance plans – measures put in place by companies to manage risk identify and prevent serious environmental impacts. Hengeler Mueller’s Uwer says that most large companies today are focused on broader climate issues and the energy transition, advising clients on how to integrate the environment into their day-to-day business practices.
At a time when environmental issues have come to the fore and ESG has become a major focus in the corporate world, there is little doubt that companies will need more environmental specialists to manage their growing role. And partners say they will look for lawyers who see their work as part of a mission.
After all, Harada said, the best environmental advocates not only help companies reduce risk, they also make them better corporate citizens.
He added: “IIt helps to have a desire to change the world.”