Natural Resources and Environmental Law

“We the people of Montana grateful to God for the quiet beauty of our state, the grandeur of our mountains, the vastness of our rolling plains, and desiring to improve the quality of life, equality of opportunity and to secure the blessings of liberty for this and future generations do ordain and establish this constitution.” - Preamble, Constitution of Montana

“All persons are born free and have certain inalienable rights. They include the right to a clean and healthful environment . . .” “The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and Healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.” - Art. II § 3 and Art. IX § 1, Constitution of Montana

Montana has long been an innovator in natural resources and environmental law. As our unique Constitution reflects, we are a community of people who both revere and rely upon natural resources, working hard to balance the varied demands placed upon our waters, lands, and wildlife. We also recognize that natural resource issues extend far beyond Montana’s borders, affecting our nation and our world. The Alexander Blewett III School of Law models these values in its mission of serving people through an emphasis on natural resources, environmental, and Indian law.

Our law students learn, live, and recreate in a place that brings natural resource issues to life. In class, students master the intricacies of laws such as the Clean Water Act and Superfund. Outside of class, they observe these laws in action through field visits by visiting the Clark Fork River restoration site. They study with professors and clinical supervisors who have practiced in the natural resources and environmental arena for years, on a campus that the Princeton Review lists as one of the most environmentally responsible in the nation. In part due to our small size, these students become part of a close-knit legal community that continues beyond graduation as they develop meaningful careers in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

We invite you to peruse the School’s diverse curricular offerings in the areas of natural resources, environmental, and Indian law. Also, check out the many extracurricular opportunities we offer, from our student Environmental Law Group, to the Pace Environmental Law moot court team, to the Public Lands & Resources Law Review―the first and only law review in the nation to focus on public lands issues. Read about our faculty and the great work they and our students contribute to the field of natural resources and environmental law. Call or visit to learn more about what makes Montana one of the best places to study natural resources and environmental law.

Curriculum

At Montana, students in their first year of law school can begin their environmental education with the Introduction to Environmental Law and Environmental Legal Research courses. In the second and third years, students choose from a diverse array of environmental electives suited to their interests, including a third-year capstone experience in a natural resources or environmental law clinic.

Because courses are small, every student can comfortably participate in our robust class discussions. Regardless of the course, our philosophy is to teach both the theory and practice of law so that students feel confident in their skills on the first day they begin their career. In our third year clinics, students work alongside experienced supervising attorneys on actual environmental isues. With several clinics to choose from, students can focus on litigation or transactional matters, non-profit or government agency work, and resource-specific issues such as forests, public lands, wildlife, or water. And for those law students wishing to distinguish themselves and acquire in-depth knowledge of natural resources and environmental law, our Program offers a Certificate in Natural Resources & Environmental Law.

The University of Montana also emphasizes the study of natural resources and the environment, which means that our law students benefit from access to graduate classes such as watershed restoration, wildlife landscape ecology, and environmental journalism. These opportunities reflect our philosophy that lawyers must collaborate with many other disciplines when solving natural resources issues. For more information on other interdisciplinary opportunities such as the J.D./Environmental Studies joint degree and the Natural Resource Conflict Resolution Certificate.

Faculty

Students work closely with program faculty during their three years of law school and build relationships that continue long after graduation. Our faculty members have substantial practice experience in natural resources and environmental law, and are eager to pass this experience on to their students. From our faculty's diverse backgrounds, students cultivate an ability to look at issues from a variety of perspectives.

Each faculty member contributes his or her own unique talents beyond the classroom as well; they sponsor law reviews and student groups, coach competition teams, and work on environmental cases and causes. Our faculty also contributes important scholarship in the areas of environmental, natural resources, and Indian law, often working with student research assistants on these endeavors.

Beyond the classroom, students benefit from their work with clinical supervisors, who provide a wealth of expertise about natural resources and environmental law. Additionally, we have faculty who hold expertise in complementary areas such as agricultural law, environmental legal research, renewable energy transactions, and environmental crimes. In sum, our students are part of a strong community of faculty and mentors that support them as they undertake their legal studies and careers.

Faculty
Professor Michelle Bryan (Program Advisor) Environment & Natural Resources, Water, Land Use
Assistant Professor Martha Williams (Program Advisor) Environment & Natural Resources, Wildlife, Climate, Public Lands
Adjunct Professor Steve Brown Environment & Natural Resources, Oil & Gas
Associate Professor Stacey Gordon Environmental Research, Animal Law
Associate Professor Jordan Gross Environmental Enforcement
Adjunct Professor Matthew McKinney Natural Resources Conflict Resolution
Assistant Professor Monte Mills Native American Natural Resources
Associate Professor Samuel Panarella Energy


Clinic Supervisors
Mark Phares, DNRC Forestry & Trust Land Management Division
Professor Martha Williams, Co-Director Land Use & Natural Resources Clinic
Grant Parker, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Mark Lodine, Atty. for the Off. of Gen. Counsel, USDA
Alan Campbell
Jody Miller
US Dept. of Justice Environmental Crimes Section
Kris McLean
Tim Racicot
Robert Anderson
Cyndee Peterson
Tara Elliot

Interdisciplinary Study Opportunities

We recognize that natural resources issues can only be solved when many disciplines work together. For this reason, our Program offers interdisciplinary opportunities that are among the strongest in the nation. On a campus that focuses on the environment and natural resources, our law students can take advantage of numerous cross-campus graduate courses, such as those in Forestry & Conservation, Environmental Studies, Wildlife Biology, Geology, and Geosciences, to name a few. They can also branch out into Indian law courses, collaborate with environmental journalism students, participate in study abroad experiences, and take their interdisciplinary focus to a higher level with a J.D./Environmental Studies Joint Degree or Natural Resource Conflict Resolution Certificate. With so many paths of interdisciplinary study, each student can have a law experience tailored made to his or her particular interests and career goals.

Certificate Program

Tiber Dam in Northcentral Montana Photo by Dean Hellinger (2009)The Certificate Program is designed for law students who wish to acquire an in-depth knowledge of environmental and natural resources law and who are willing to commit the time and effort necessary to achieve a level of specialization in their legal education. The Certificate Program provides students the opportunity to graduate from law school with a credential recognizing their concentration and accomplishment in these two fields. Because we believe specialization in law school should not come at the expense of a well-rounded legal education, we require students in the Certificate Program to complete 95 hours compared to 90 credit hours for students outside the Certificate Program. In most cases, this additional credit load can be completed within the normal three academic years of law school.

Upon successful completion of the certificate program, the certificate is noted officially on the student's transcript.

If you wish to pursue a certificate program, you must notify the Associate Dean of the School of Law as soon as you decide to do so, but in no case later than the beginning of your second year of law school.

Certificate Requirements

  1. Earn a total of 95 credits (five credits more than required for the J.D.)
  2. Take the following courses:
    • Administrative Law
    • Introduction to Environmental Law
    • Public Lands and Resources Law
  3. Take five credits from the following certificate elective courses:
    • Land Use & the Environment
    • Environmental Law Research
    • Natural Resources & Energy Development
    • Water Law
    • American Indian Natural Resources Law
    • Wildlife Law
    • Law of Climate Change
    • Renewable Energy Law
    • Environmental Moot Court
    • Summer Offerings:
      • Indigenous Cultural Preservation
      • American Indian Natural Resource Law
      • China Comparative Environmental & Renewable Energy Law
  4. Take at least four credits from the following clinical and skills courses:
    • Department of Natural Resources Conservation Clinic
    • Land Use & Natural Resources Clinic
    • Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Clinic
    • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USFS) Clinic
  5. Co-Curricular Opportunities - Successfully complete the advanced writing requirement in an area addressing an environmental or natural resources topic. To assure that a Third-Year Writing Assignment satisfies this requirement, the student must receive approval of the proposal by the Associate Dean's designate. The Associate Dean's designate is to review the writing topic and the final writing of every certificate program student.

The School publishes the Public Land and Resources Law Review, one of the nation's oldest law reviews dedicated to natural resource topics. Students, who are selected through an anonymous writing competition and receive course credit, serve as the editors and staff for the PLRLR and often have articles published in the journal. The PLRLR holds an annual conference on an environmental/resource topic. The editors and staff select the topic, arrange for the speakers and manage the entire conference.

Rafting one of Montana's many rivers Photo by Dean Hellinger (2009)The Law School also competes in the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition held in New York each year. Students for the national team are selected through a competitive process and undertake a rigorous program that includes writing a court brief and presenting oral arguments.

Many law students interested in environmental/resource issues belong to the Environmental Law Group. This student-run organization sponsors speakers on topics ranging from careers in environmental law to pressing environmental issues of the day. The group also sponsors field trips—both educational (for example, to the site of a proposed mine) and recreational (river float trips and picnics).

Opportunities for Graduates

With a focus on environmental and resource law, graduates can pursue a variety of career paths. Our graduates hold positions with the federal government in Washington, D.C. and with the Montana state government. Other graduates hold environmental positions with public interest organizations. Several of our graduates serve as environmental counsel to Indian tribes in Montana and elsewhere. Still other graduates have pursued private sector employment in law firms and in industry. Every sector of legal employment offers environmental work and jobs exist everywhere from small towns in Montana to the nation's largest cities.

Student Activities & Resources

Program students have numerous opportunities to deepen their learning outside the classroom. Our Public Land & Resources Law Review—unique among environmental law reviews for its focus on public lands—publishes environmental news and scholarly pieces, both online and in print, and hosts the nationally recognized Public Lands Law Conference.  The Environmental Law Group is the School’s largest student group, working year round on activities such as its speaker series, the Clark Fork River cleanup, and a “Bulls, Blues & Brews” fundraiser for environmental causes. Students wishing to hone their environmental advocacy skills can compete on the Pace Environmental Moot Court Team, traveling to New York for the annual competition. Not to mention that living in Missoula means living in the recreational center of Western Montana, in a community engaged in important environmental conversations, where the possibilities for becoming involved are endless.

Scholarships & Financial Aid Resources

At UM Law, we strive to support students throughout the life of their legal career —from financial aid during school, to career placement during school and after graduation, to continuing legal education seminars and other alumni services for our graduates.

In addition to the general financial aid and scholarship packages available to entering law students, current students may qualify for scholarships and awards specific to natural resources and environmental law. There are needs-based and performance-based awards available. Students can also work as research assistants to environmental faculty. Through the university financial aid office, they can arrange for funded environmental internships with various qualifying governmental and nonprofit entities.

After law school, our students go on to work around the country in many different fields of natural resources law, including Congressional staff positions, state agency work, private law firm practice, and nonprofit advocacy. Having worked in environmental clinics before graduation, our students start these careers with developed practice skills and an existing network of mentors. Our faculty and the Law School’s Career Services Office assist students in their career development.  To further promote the careers of our graduates, we maintain close relationships with our environmental alumni through the Environmental Legal Education Network (ELEN), an organization that sponsors attorney networking opportunities and events.

Our alumni remain an important part of the Law School community, and we strive to carry on connections between our graduates, faculty, and current students. Providing post-graduate career services, hosting environmental law mixers, bringing alumni to the school for guest lectures, and sponsoring Environmental CLE Seminars are a few of the ways we foster our environmental law community.

Environmental Law Events

Our Program hosts the distinguished Public Land Law Conference and the Jestrab Lecture on Water―events unique in the nation for their focus on public lands and water. These and other gatherings allow our students and community to learn from nationally recognized experts concerning the most significant natural resources topics of our day. In many cases, our students play a leading role in identifying speakers and topics and develop lifelong connections in their field. We invite you to join us for the upcoming events shown on our online calendar.

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