Are Environmental Lawyers Cool?

During a plenary session Monday afternoon, ELAW partners had the great fortune to spend time discussing media and communication strategies with Dan Wieden, of Wieden + Kennedy, and Dan Carol, a political consultant who was the Issues Director for the Obama campaign. The “Dans” reminded us of the importance of sharing the stories of our work with the world while maintaining optimism and a sense of fun.

During our discussion the question arose….“are environmental lawyers cool?” Diana McCaulay, the unstoppable CEO of Jamaica Environment Trust (who to me seems incredibly cool), said that she’s not considered cool in Jamaica.

Diana McCaulay listens to ELAW Board Member Cheryl Coon

Diana McCaulay listens to ELAW Board Member Cheryl Coon

We all laughed, perhaps a little nervously. After all, we were in the presence of the man who created the “Just Do It” campaign for Nike and a man who was instrumental in the success of the Obama campaign.

Are environmental lawyers cool? The evidence would seem to point in the direction of a resounding “NO!”
We are frequently surrounded by big books and pages of densely-written laws.
We discuss renewable energy payments with great excitement to anyone who will listen.
We understand latin terms for obscure judicial procedures.

But consider this. Public-interest environmental lawyers have put their passion first. Whether it is love for the mountains or the sea, love for their community, or love for their children, we are driven by passion to protect the environment, to protect the world that our children will grow up in.

Last Friday, my colleague Jen Gleason and I gave a presentation on “Defending the Defenders” at a symposium on human rights and the environment held at the University of Oregon School of Law. We shared the unfortunate experiences of many of ELAW’s partners who have been victims of physical violence, subject to invasive searches of their offices and homes, or imprisoned on false or nonexistent criminal charges simply because they are working to protect communities’ rights to a clean and healthy environment. It is passion that keeps these brave public-interest lawyers moving forward through obstacles that most people would never even try to overcome.

Passion first.
To me, that’s cool.

by Liz Mitchell, ELAW Staff Attorney