Environmental Law Q&A

How has your practice area evolved over the duration of your career?

Early on in my career, clients were not always aware of the laws and their correct implementation, and were therefore at risk of violating environmental laws. At that time, government agencies primarily directed their efforts to enforcement of such laws.

Today, most companies have greater awareness of environmental laws and an active interest in compliance. Government agencies' focus seems to be shifting more towards outreach and working collaboratively with regulated companies rather than focusing strictly on enforcement.

What is one of the biggest challenges your clients are facing today?

I find that my clients want to do the right thing and comply with regulations, however, environmental laws are not always clear and can be subject to interpretation. Conflicts arise when government agencies interpret the laws differently than companies. At that point, I am engaged to make the appropriate arguments on behalf of my clients.

How do you collaborate with other attorneys at Lewis Rice?

My practice allows me to partner with attorneys in other practice areas, in particular the real estate and transactional teams. When our real estate and corporate clients contemplate purchasing properties with potential environmental hazards they may face significant risk due to the financial exposure for the company if they are held liable for the clean-up of any environmental contamination on the property.

Our clients will want to understand their risk as well as the potential clean-up costs, and in some cases will want to seek assurance from the appropriate government agency that they will not be held liable for the clean-up. Some agencies will work with companies to reach an agreement, while others will not. In those instances, I will negotiate on behalf of our clients for the most favorable outcome and to protect the client as much as possible.

What is one of the proudest moments of your career?

Being recognized by my peers and elected as the youngest and the first woman to serve as Bar President in the 114-year history of the State Bar of Wisconsin. That opportunity not only allowed me to assume a leadership role within my industry, but also to develop programs on issues that were personally important to me. In an effort to make the State Bar more relevant to its members, I established the first diversity committee and focused programming at many of our conferences towards solo practitioners and small firms, as they constituted a majority of the State Bar membership.

How has your involvement in professional organizations impacted your perspective on your work?

My current leadership role in the American Bar Association (ABA) is a tremendous resource. This year, as the chair of the Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER), my primary focus is on outreach. We are working on collaborative projects with other sections of the ABA, including Business Law and International Law, as well as outside of the ABA with state, local, and even international bar associations. Our outreach has resulted in strong relationships with attorneys practicing in diverse disciplines all over the world and through collaboration we have achieved common goals and made each of our organizations stronger.