Meet the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law

Posted on July 11, 2013 by Robert Percival

The year 2013 marks the tenth anniversary of the establishment of a global network of legal educators dedicated to improving the teaching of environmental law and promoting its conceptual development throughout the world.  The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law (“the Academy”) was created in 2003 by a small group environmental law professors from several countries, with the endorsement of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  Today the Academy has 168 institutional members from 53 countries in all corners of the globe.  Pace Professor Nicholas Robinson, a fellow member of the American College of Environmental Lawyers, was the moving force behind the founding of the Academy.  I am most grateful to him for recruiting me to be one of its founding members, and I have been delighted to participate in the Academy’s rapid growth.

Each year the IUCN Academy holds a Colloquium in a different part of the world at which the top academic experts in environmental law from all over the world gather to examine developments in the field.  From June 24-28, 2013, the 11th Colloquium of the Academy was held at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand.  Despite the remote location, more than 200 environmental experts from 30 countries participated in this event in person. A particular highlight of the colloquium was a plenary session on access to justice that featured presentations from some of the world’s top judges. 

The annual distinguished scholar lecture at this year’s colloquium was presented by Mas Achmad Santosa, Deputy Minister and Deputy Head of the President’s Delivery Unit for Development Monitoring & Oversight of the Republic of Indonesia.  He discussed how Indonesian environmental officials are using satellite monitoring technology to locate the sources of massive fires in Sumatran palm oil plantations that have blanketed Singapore and Malaysia with record air pollution.  Santosa was remarkably candid in discussing the challenges corruption poses to environmental enforcement in the developing world. 

In addition to the distinguished scholar lecture, many other environmental experts make presentations at the colloquia.  This year more than 160 presentations were made at the University of Waikato gathering.  Abstracts and PowerPoint slides of the presentations can be viewed here. In recent years graduate students have been participating in the colloquia in greater numbers.  Five of my top Maryland environmental law students presented papers at the University of Waikato gathering last month on topics as diverse as adaptation to climate change, the challenge of phasing out fossil fuel subsidies in different countries, legal strategies for holding multinational corporations accountable for environmental harm, and trans-national differences in risk analysis.

The colloquia also feature day-long workshops on environmental law research and the teaching of environmental law.  The Academy has devoted considerable resources to improving the capacity of universities to teach environmental law.  Week-long “Training the Teachers” courses have been developed by Academy faculty and are presented regularly in developing countries. The Basic Course, which addresses the needs of professors who are new to teaching environmental law, covers the scope and substance of environmental law and it explores teaching methodologies and approaches to student assessment. The Advanced Course seeks to prepare senior environmental law professors to deliver the Basic Course to junior colleagues.  During summer 2013 these courses will be given to a group of Chinese professors in Chongqing, China. 

To keep the global community updated on the latest developments in environmental law, the Academy publishes an online journal that is updated twice a year.  This e-journal includes articles, book reviews, and reports on developments in environmental law in many different countries.  The latest issue of this e-journal includes 30 different country reports, each authored by a local expert.

The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law has helped create a truly global network of academic experts specializing in environmental law.  They will gather again next summer for the Academy’s 12th Colloquium at the Universitat of Rovira y Virgili in Tarragona, Spain from June 30-July 5, 2014.

Troubled Times in Legal Education

Posted on April 23, 2012 by Irma S. Russell

The topic I have chosen for this blog may be a surprise to some.  It is not about a late-breaking environmental case--though we have had a couple in Montana recently.  It does not analyze a new regulation or explain a newly-discovered risk of industry practice.  It is not about the new federal guidance (such as the National Forest System Land Management Plan).  Rather, my focus is on the recent challenges in legal education.  While this topic is not substantively environmental, it will have an impact on the practice of environmental law in the not-too-distant future.

Just as we need a rational energy policy, we need a system of legal education that serves the public good.  We need to study seriously our nation’s policies on supporting and delivering legal education.  The importance of rule of law and lawyers to our democracy can hardly be overstated.  Public support for education in general and legal education in particular has declined over the last two decades to the point that people who want to make law their life’s work are facing an uphill battle and society is facing a situation in which no one except the wealthy can afford legal representation.

The challenges facing legal education today have been the subject of numerous recent articles.  Rising debt burdens law school graduates as they search for jobs in a tight market.  In January, the ABA Journal reported that America's law students borrowed at least $3.7 billion in 2010.  In [that same year], 85 percent of law graduates from ABA-accredited schools had an average debt load of $98,500, according to data collected from law schools by U.S. News & World Report.  At 29 schools, that amount exceeded $120,000.  In contrast, only 68 percent of those grads reported employment in positions that require a JD nine months after graduation.  Less than 51 percent found employment in private law firms.  The influx of so many law school graduates--44,258 in 2010 alone, according to the ABA--into a declining job market has created serious repercussions.   

In addition to facing high debt loads and fewer job opportunities, law graduates are confronted by criticism that law school is too theoretical and does not fully prepare graduates for practice.  Jeffrey W. Carr, the general counsel of FMC Technologies, stated in a New York Times article, “The fundamental issue is that law schools are producing people who are not capable of being counselors.  They are lawyers in the sense that they have law degrees, but they aren’t ready to be a provider of services.”  Over the last two decades, schools have added offerings in clinics, externships, and simulations to introduce more experiential learning into their curriculum.  Today, the vast majority of the nation's 200 law schools provide students with some kind of clinical training.  Nevertheless, there is no denying that new law graduates continue to need on-the-job training and mentoring by employers and colleagues before they are ready to fully embrace all aspects of the practice.

The American College of Environmental Lawyers (ACOEL) has been looking for innovative ways to fulfill its service mission to the profession.  The ideas include working with law faculty to survey the skills and knowledge new lawyers need to succeed in our profession and to make recommendations for changes in law schools.  I agree whole-heartedly with this and other innovative suggestions for developing our service and improving the profession, but I want to suggest an additional (old) avenue for this service: mentoring.

Mentoring is important for many reasons, and it serves as a way of bridging the gap in knowledge between the theory and practice in the law.  Mentoring is also an opportunity for lawyers to help others gain insight and judgment.  ACOEL members and other environmental practitioners have numerous opportunities to assist students and young lawyers.  Now, more than ever, there is a need for passionate, competent lawyers in environmental law and related fields, and these new lawyers will need mentors.  They will need mentors to be able to serve their clients and also to achieve the sense of serving the public good – one of the principal reasons students enrolled in law school in the first place. 

Practitioners can contribute in a variety of ways.  If you see a lack of mentoring in today's legal profession and want to contribute to this need, I hope you will reach out to a law school near you and offer to help mentor students and newly licensed lawyers.  I also hope you will consider supporting your own law school or others--particularly those that focus on environmental law--to help ensure the next generation of lawyers has the tools and opportunities to flourish in the practice of environmental law and to serve the public in this crucial field.