Home Institution

University of Delaware

Publication Date

Fall 2018

Program Name

Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action


Amidst our environmental crisis, environmental lawyers at nonprofit legal centers (NPLCs) play an important role in advocating for, revising, and enforcing the environmental laws which shape human behavior as it relates to environmental health. With a goal of protecting the environment and public interest through the law, these lawyers deal with few resources and personal environmental concerns in addition to all the common challenges of lawyering such as long hours and general stress. Due to their unique position in protecting the future of our environment’s health, it is essential that environmental lawyers at NPLCs can sustain their motivations to do their work.

To gain insight into how they sustain this stamina, I interviewed 12 lawyers with experience working at community legal centers or public interest legal practices in Australia. The focus questions, ‘What are the difficulties of being an environmental lawyer at a NPLC?’, and ‘How do environmental lawyers who work at NPLCs stay motivated and cope with such difficulties, if they do?’ guided my research.

The responses revealed emerging themes in common challenges, motivators, and coping mechanisms that environmental lawyers at NPLCs experience. Generally, lack of funding, unjust degradation of nature and communities, and environmental laws geared for development rather than environmental protection caused interviewees to feel a lack of ability to make real change. Despite these challenges, it was helping clients and communities, gaining personal satisfaction, and fulfilling personal passions that motivated them most to stick with their jobs. Additionally, working with a supportive group of passionate and dedicated environmental activists kept interviewee’s spirits high while the structure of the NPLCs allowed for a noncompetitive yet productive atmosphere. In addition to coworker support, participants best coped with the challenges of their jobs by aiming to separate their work life and personal life by spending time with loved ones, exercising mind and body, and spending time in nature. Overall, the data exposed a general resilience in environmental lawyers and their preference for working in the nonprofit space because, generally, it best aligned their values with their work.

Keywords: Environmental lawyer, community legal center, public interest legal practice, nonprofit.


Environmental Law | Law | Nonprofit Organizations Law


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