Environmental Law

Overview of Environmental Offerings and Opportunities at Northwestern
Northwestern Law offers a dynamic, interdisciplinary approach to environmental law that takes full advantage of the law school's relationship with the scientific and environmental communities of Chicago. At the Law School itself, Northwestern offers a broad range of core and upper-level courses, ranging from the fundamentals of environmental and natural resources law to advanced topics in sustainability, energy, international environmental law, and climate change. More technical course offerings and research opportunities are available to law students as part of Northwestern University's Institute for Sustainability and Energy (ISEN), the Northwestern Institute for Sustainable Practices (NisP), and the Sustainability Program at the Kellogg School of Management.

Northwestern offers practical clinical experience through the Environmental Advocacy Clinic, which handles a variety of pressing environmental matters. Externships may also be available with the premier environmental advocacy organization in the Midwest—the Environmental Law and Policy Center. 

The Law School also maintains close ties with law firms, corporations, local and national non-profits, and federal agencies, all of whom provide regular employment opportunities for Northwestern graduates. The Law School has three full-time faculty devoted to environmental law and policy and a broad range of affiliated faculty.

The Environmental Concentration: Course and Other Requirements
Students may take courses and conduct research as part of a formal environmental concentration. The goal of the environmental concentration is to provide students with a foundation for future leadership in environmental law and policy. The concentration provides a vehicle for concentrated coursework, research, and interaction with faculty, but it is not required in order to take any course. Students electing an environmental concentration will complete the following courses that are currently offered at the Law School:Environmental Law, Natural Resources, Administrative Law, and a research paper. Students also complete an additional five courses from a list that includes Legislation, Economics and the Environment, Environmental Advocacy Clinic, Land Use and Other Urban Issues, Environmental Appellate Advocacy Workshop, Clean Energy and Environmental Constitutionalism, Structuring Transactions: Environmental Law, Energy Law and Policy, Colloquium: Environmental Law, International Environmental Law, Environmental Justice Seminar, and The Law of Real Estate Development and Finance. 

Clinical and Externship Opportunities in Environmental Law
The Environmental Advocacy Clinic, directed by Professor Robert Weinstock, offers a tremendous opportunity for students to build practice skills in the context of compelling and high-profile environmental issues facing the nation and the world. Clients include residents and community groups in environmental justice communities who face industrial pollution of air, water, and soil, and the health consequences of this pollution. The Clinic’s work also extends to natural resource protection and energy issues and includes partnerships with the World Wildlife Fund, Elevate Energy, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center.  

Students gain competency in advocacy on complex environmental law matters through oral and written comments on agency proposals, client communication, media strategy, and collaboration with external partners—including other environmental law clinics and non-profit environmental advocacy organizations.  

The Clinic’s environmental justice work enables students to learn community lawyering along side residents living on hazardous wastes contaminated with lead and arsenic, as well as communities fighting for more controls on industrial operations in their neighborhood. Students also provide essential research to scientists and advocates who need to understand the existing laws that may protect marine mammals from the impacts of increased development and ship traffic in the Arctic made possible by climate change.  

Opportunities for Supervised Research
Northwestern Law provides extensive opportunities for students to conduct in-depth, original research in environmental law. Working closely with faculty, students may undertake senior research projects that culminate in a paper that numerous students have gone on to publish in law journals.

In addition, through the Sustainability Solutions Practicum, students are able to do supervised group research on a project of interest to an outside "client" such as a non-profit group or government entity. Students have undertaken ground-breaking research projects such as implementing green re-designs for public housing in Chicago, establishing safety practices for the use of nanomaterials, and improving energy and water efficiency at Northwestern University. These group projects typically team one or more law students with graduate students in engineering or business or another relevant field.



David Dana, Professor of Law, Director of the Northwestern Institute for Sustainable Practices, and Co-Director of the Environmental Concentration

David Dana entered teaching after practicing as a litigator at a major Washington, D.C., law firm and at the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the United States Department of Justice, where he litigated Clean Water Act enforcement cases and also served as EPA's appellate counsel in defending a range of administrative rulemakings against challenges from both industry and environmental groups. He has written on a wide range of topics in environmental law and policy, as well as in land use and the law of property. Professor Dana's current projects include an analysis of how to use legal and regulatory tools to maximize the benefits while minimizing the environmental, health and safety risks of emerging and fast-evolving technologies, such as nanotechnology, including the use of private NGO-private industry partnerships, liability relief as a quid-pro-quo for private testing, and mandatory insurance or bonds. He is also working in the area of climate change, focusing on how best to adapt current legal and regulatory tools and paradigms (such as cost-benefit analysis and private and public nuisance liability) to the exceptional characteristics of the climate change problem. Professor Dana graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, and clerked for Judge Betty Fletcher of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Michael Barsa, Senior Lecturer and Co-Director of the Environmental Concentration

Michael Barsa litigated numerous high-profile environmental and natural resources cases before joining the Northwestern faculty. He developed novel legal strategies in cases involving large-scale groundwater contamination from MTBE in gasoline, DDT off the California coast, subsurface trespass of oilfield water, international environmental harms arising from the first Gulf War, and recycling. His scholarly work has explored international environmental claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act, risk perception under environmental warning statutes, and the Public Trust Doctrine. Professor Barsa graduated as a member of the Order of the Coif from Stanford Law School and clerked for Judge Cynthia Holcomb Hall on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Robert Weinstock, Clinical Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Northwestern Environmental Advocacy Center

Robert is an experienced clinical instructor and environmental advocate who taught and practiced in the University of Chicago Law School's Abrams Environmental Law Clinic. Previously, he practiced complex litigation at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, in New York, and environmental law at Barnes & Thornburg, in Chicago. He also served as a law clerk to The Honorable Victor Marrero on the Southern District of New York. Professor Weinstock received his JD from Columbia University School of Law in 2009, where he was a James Kent Scholar, President of the Environmental Law Society, and an Articles Editor for the Columbia Law Review. He received a BA from the College of Social Studies at Wesleyan University in 2006, where he founded the Student Endowment Advisory Committee and was awarded the Cardinal Club Scholar-Athlete Award.


Howard A. Learner is President and Executive Director of Chicago's Environmental law and Policy Center. He has served as an environmental advisor to the Obama campaign and transition, and has been involved in a rage of high-profile environmental law cases and policy disputes. Mr. Learner is responsible for the overall strategic policy direction, development and leadership of ELPC. Before founding ELPC, he was the General Counsel of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, a public interest law center, specializing in complex civil litigation and policy development. Mr. Learner is an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern Law and regularly co-teaches an advanced environmental law seminar with Professor Dana. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School.

Kimberly Gray is Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering, and Co-Director of the Northwestern Institute on Sustainable Practices. Her work bridges the divides of fundamental chemistry, environmental science and ecology and policy-relevant engagement with cutting-edge controversies in environmental law and policy. Professor Gray and Dana have co-taught and collaborate on a range of projects. Professor Gray is currently serving as a Sigma XI Distinguished National Lecturer, and in that capacity has lectured throughout the country on issues related to sustainability.

Keith Harley is Director of the Environmental Program of the Chicago Legal Clinic, a major provider of legal services to low-income individuals and communities in Chicago. He is also Chair of the Chicago Bar Association's Environmental Law Section, and has taught as an adjunct professor at Northwestern for more than a decade.

Lawrence Falbe is a partner in the national law firm of Quarles & Brady LLP, where his practice focuses on environmental transactional support (both real estate and corporate), environmental defense and litigation, Brownfields issues and environmental compliance matters. He also has substantial litigation experience involving environmental issues, including CERCLA (Superfund), hazardous waste, toxic torts, the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, underground storage tanks, and nuclear fuel processing. He has represented clients involved in enforcement actions by federal, state, and local authorities (including the Illinois Pollution Control Board), and negotiated numerous compliance programs, consent decrees and settlements. While in law school, he completed internships with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region V, and the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Enforcement Division. He received his BA degree, cum laude, from Augustana College and his JD degree from DePaul University, where he was editor of the DePaul Environmental Law Digest and on staff of the DePaul Law Review.

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