Charting Your Path in Environmental and Energy Law

Professor Heather Payne.

Professor Heather Payne

Professor Heather Payne is a leader in the areas of energy law, environmental law, evolving regulatory policy, and the implications for property, both real and intellectual. A former chemical engineer and corporate executive, her research explores regulatory policy, the changes necessary to implement the electricity grid of the future, and how consumers will become increasingly involved in the decision-making of regulatory bodies.  Before joining the Seton Hall Law faculty, Professor Payne was Fellow and Assistant Director of the Center for Climate, Energy, Environment and Economics (CE3) at the University of North Carolina School of Law.

What kinds of career opportunities can a student expect in the environmental law area?  What about energy law?
There are many potential career opportunities in environmental and energy law, including working for state and federal agencies in development, permitting, enforcement, and compliance; helping companies with those same tasks, either at a firm or as in-house counsel; or working to protect the public interest in various ways. In northern New Jersey, a lot of legal work centers around brownfield redevelopment and permitting for regulated industries.

If a student is interested in environmental/energy law, how do they find jobs/internships?  Should a student work for a company, a firm, or both?
The Seton Hall Law Environmental Law Society (ELS) has good resources about various ways to find jobs and internships. There are newsletters, such as the Planetary Lawyer project, that list job opportunities, law firm websites often list practice areas (energy law/environmental law/land use), agency and organization websites (see more below), and sites like (for federal positions).  Reach out to Career Services for help!

Are there government agencies you would recommend if interested in environmental/energy law?
Many government agencies have environmental opportunities. At the federal level, these include the obvious ones like the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in addition to the Department of the Interior, the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).  Many of these agencies, including the EPA, provide a competitive Honors program for graduating students, as well as internship opportunities. At the state level, environmental law opportunities include the Attorney General's office and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, as well as corresponding agencies in other states.  Students can also work for New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority, both of which offer internships.

For energy law at the federal level, the main agencies include Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Department of Justice, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the Department of Energy.  FERC offers 2L internships, and the Department of Energy offers internships and opportunities for graduating students. At the state level, New Jersey has the Board of Public Utilities (the main agency), and the Division of the Rate Counsel (which is responsible for representing the interests of residents, businesses, and other rate payers in dealing with regulated public utilities and insurance firms).  The BPU and Rate Counsel have internships and will hire right out of law school.  Each state has a public utility commission similar to the BPU and Rate Counsel, but they may have a different name.

What are the most important qualifications/attributes a student should have in order to secure a job/internship in environmental/energy law?  Does a student need to have a science background?
Students do not need to have any science background to be successful in environmental or energy law. The most important qualifications or attributes are the same that lead to success in any other field of law: critical thinking and research and writing skills.

What SHU Law classes should a student take if they are interested in environmental/energy law?
Those interested in these areas should take Environmental Law, Energy Law, Administrative Law, and Land Use/Zoning Law. Bankruptcy, Renewable Energy Finance, Federal and/or Corporate Tax, State and Local Government can also be useful areas to know.

How hard is it to break into these fields of law?
How hard it is to break into energy or environmental law is highly variable depending on exactly which subject area and where (in terms of employer). Working for an investor-owned utility like PSE&G straight out of law school is very difficult; like other in-house positions, they tend to prefer some firm experience.  However, they do offer internships during law school!  Positions at large environmental non-profits, like EarthJustice, Surfrider Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, Wildlife Fund, National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, etc. are extremely competitive for graduating students (they do offer internships though!).  However, recent grads have gone to work for energy and environmental practice groups at large firms, in-house at renewable energy developers, and government agencies (both federal and state) that focus on these issues.

How important is networking in breaking into this field of law?  Any networking opportunities that you would recommend?
Networking is incredibly important.  Joining the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER), the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) Environmental Section, the NJSBA Public Utility Law Section, and the New Jersey Environmental Inn of Court are all great networking opportunities.  It is free for students to join these organizations.

Students interested in these areas should also join the Environmental Law Society here at SHU Law. The Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) is also great if a student is interested in animal issues.