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"You can do a world of good for the environment," MLaw grad tells students during ELPP careers event

By John Masson

Gary Ballesteros, '88When Gary Ballesteros was still a student at Michigan Law back in the late 1980s, he knew one thing was certain about life after law school: some people wore white hats, and some people wore black hats.

If you wore the white hat, he figured, you lost out financially. If you wore the black hat, you might have trouble sleeping, but at least you'd be doing it in a very comfortable place.

Twenty-some years later, Ballesteros, '88, now vice president (law) of Rockwell Automation, told a noontime audience at a Careers in Environmental Law Speakers Series, "I think that’s really, really wrong. ...You can do a world of good for the environment," both in and outside of industry.

Ballesteros should know; he sees first hand that lawyers on both sides of many environmental issues are thoroughly green.

Ballesteros divided his talk into three main sections: his experience of the practice of environmental law; the roles of in-house and outside counsel (he's been both); and general career advice. About 30 students filled most of a Hutchins Hall classroom, then asked questions at the end of the hour-long talk.

"We're all in this, we environmental lawyers, because we care about the environment," he said. "You can do well and do good in this career."

Ballesteros, formerly with Jenner & Block, always had an interest in environmental law, and studied the subject at Michigan Law under Professor Jim Krier. He cautioned those in the audience with a similar interest, however, to know what they are getting into—and then immediately congratulated them for being “way smarter than I was” in trying to find out what the field is like by attending events like the Speakers Series.

He added that it’s a mistake to think of environmental law as strictly a specialty. At Jenner & Block, for example, environmental law experts might find themselves researching the environmental liabilities of a company in the process of being acquired by one of their clients—interesting mergers and acquisitions work for an environmental lawyer.

Similarly, environmental law experts might offer counsel in estate planning for people who want to leave property to their heirs—as opposed to leaving those heirs some giant environmental liability.

Once he moved to Rockwell Automation, he discovered a few of the key differences between in-house and outside counsel—most notably, the end of the billable hour.

"It is a grim reaper who stands over your shoulder and has some really unfortunate consequences for your day," he said of the billing method. Needless to say, he doesn't miss it.

Other developments at Rockwell during his time there have included the company's decision to sell off the weapons and aerospace components of its business to concentrate on other, greener specialties like automation and robotics.

One key lesson, he said: "Sustainability is good for business, not bad for business."

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