The Law School’s new Environmental Law and Policy Clinic is set to welcome its inaugural class with the start of the fall semester. A collaborative venture between the Law School and the Nicholas School for the Environment and Earth Sciences, the clinic will allow students from each school to work together in addressing complex issues of law and policy with a broad array of tools and insights from an essential mix of disciplines: law, policy and science.
“In the search for technological solutions to environmental problems, lawyers must be able to communicate with research scientists and engineers in meaningful ways,” says Clinic Director Ryke Longest. “Our interdisciplinary approach will facilitate that communication and better inform the law with the science and the science with the law.”
Having come to Duke after 14 years in the Environmental Division of the North Carolina Department of Justice, Longest says that he has long admired — and periodically relied upon — the unique blend of legal and scientific expertise among faculty at Duke.
“We have top-notch faculty and scholarship in environmental law — our faculty members literally wrote the textbooks,” he says. “And in the Nicholas School, Duke has a wonderful set of experts in the environmental sciences. It is the perfect place to teach students how to harness that knowledge and understanding of the natural processes to help shape effective policy.”
The clinic will seek to work with local, state, and national nonprofit organizations with an environmental or conservation focus. One project to be undertaken by the clinic this fall will be working to develop new policy and legal tools to promote environmentally sustainable businesses. Students will survey current incentives in North Carolina and neighboring states. For several successive semesters, some students will work with Environmental Defense on this project with the hope to cultivate more sustainable businesses in North Carolina and throughout the Southeast. Longest says he hopes that this project will provide opportunities to collaborate with other clinics and organizations over the long term.
Complex issues of environmental law and policy generally involve multiple stakeholders and take years to resolve, he observes, adding that each stage of that process offers valuable opportunities for students to master such essential skills as interviewing and counseling clients, policy analysis, and legal research, writing, and drafting.
At the North Carolina Department of Justice, Longest served as lead counsel to state environmental agencies, boards, and commissions, litigating cases before administrative agencies and all levels of state and federal courts. He also drafted laws and regulations and advised agencies on rule-making.
Michelle Nowlin JD/MA ’92, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, who says Longest has been her “go-to” person for administrative law questions for more than a decade, calls him an excellent choice for clinic director. “He is a gifted attorney with a strong passion for environmental issues. I have always counted on him for direction if I was encountering a new area of environmental law.”
James Salzman, Samuel F. Mordecai Professor of Law and Nicholas Professor of Environmental Policy, serves as faculty adviser to the clinic and headed the year-long, national search for its director. He lauds Longest’s willingness to mentor young lawyers as well as his depth of experience in environmental law and policy.
“One thing that impressed me was the number of stories I heard of young attorneys he had mentored with whom he had no formal relationship — he just thought it was important to be a mentor,” Salzman says. “He has a great reputation and amazing connections in the legal and environmental community. He really is a natural fit for this position.”
John Adams ’62, founding director of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Open Space Institute and chair of the clinic’s advisory board, hopes the clinic will provide fresh leadership in the growing field of environmental law.
“The clinic represents a fabulous opportunity for training and will help create the new leadership that is going to be needed on these issues,” says Adams.