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Environmental law: area of practice

Environmental law covers many practice areas, such as corporate, commercial, contract, real estate, and criminal procedure, explains Michelle Headrige at Addleshaw Goddard LLP.
After environmental incidents, a trainee may attend the site and take witness statements.

It is important to understand that, while lawyers in this practice area should have an interest in the environment, environmental lawyers need to be able to take a balanced approach. In a commercial firm, this area of law is about helping your commercial clients and businesses through the minefield of environmental regulation so that they can continue to run their operations while complying with the law.

Environmental law is a good area if you want the opportunity to progress quickly and always be in demand. Lawyers in this field need to be able to adapt to ever-changing environmental legislation. The fast pace of this practice area keeps environmental law varied, dynamic and interesting.

Working with other legal teams

Environmental law covers many practice areas, such as corporate, commercial, contract, real estate, litigation, and criminal procedure. This is a real advantage of the specialism as it means environmental lawyers get to work with almost every team in a firm.

An environmental lawyer’s work can be anything from providing environmental support on a real estate transaction or dealing with a criminal investigation by an environmental regulator, to giving advice on a particular area of environmental regulation that impacts a commercial entity and its day-to-day operations.

For environmental incidents, work can include gathering information about how the incident happened, taking witness statements, dealing with the environmental regulators who are investigating, and visiting the site of the incident. Visiting a client's site can provide valuable insight following an incident. You may need to review and understand technical information and the processes involved, say, at a manufacturing facility to properly advise your client.

In a corporate transaction where you are acting for the buyer, work can include: reviewing environmental information provided by the seller; preparing an environmental due diligence report; assessing environmental risks associated with the target business; providing advice to your client as to how they should manage these risks moving forward; and drafting environmental provisions (such as warranties and indemnities) in the contractual documents. Environmental issues may be raised last minute so it’s important to be flexible and take a pragmatic approach while trying to manage the risks for your client.

Clients can vary hugely from major PLCs and global entities through to individuals. Long working hours can be involved in environmental law – as with most areas of commercial and corporate law – where it is necessary to meet deadlines, such as the signing of a corporate deal.


The last recession had an impact on environmental law, but not as much as other areas of law. Fewer corporate and real estate transactions occurring meant a shift in the type of work environmental lawyers did. We have a varied practice and do a lot of regulatory work, which formed a greater percentage of my firm’s work during this period.

What sort of work will you be given as a trainee solicitor? 

Trainees’ work on corporate transactions involves carrying out environmental due diligence and preparing drafts of environmental reports. Where there has been an environmental incident, a trainee may attend the site visit, and take and write up drafts of witness statements. As it’s a highly regulated area there is always a lot of research to be done. Generally trainees enjoy the seat because they get exposure to so many different types of client and areas of business. We always try to give the trainees in our seat as much hands-on experience as possible. For example, running the environmental part of a transaction, with supervision.

Types of law practised by enviromental solicitors 

  • European.
  • Real estate.
  • Commercial.
  • Litigation and criminal.
  • Corporate.
  • Regulatory.

Good environmental solicitors have…

  • Good research skills, and an ability to stand by your findings and debate the position you have taken on a particular point of law.
  • A genuine interest in environmental law.
  • An open mind, particularly when dealing with an environmental incident.
  • The ability to be pragmatic and apply the law to a client’s specific situation and commercial activity and give them a practical solution.

Michelle Headrige is a legal director within the construction, engineering and environment group at Addleshaw Goddard LLP. She graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in geography.