Environmental Pro Bono Opportunities
In addition to its extensive course offerings, clinical work, and lectures and conferences, the Environmental Law and Policy Program offers students the opportunity to gain practical experience working on pro bono projects that are part of the Law School's pro bono pledge. These opportunities, which are available to first-year students as well as 2Ls and 3Ls, allow students to work closely with faculty and other students on cutting-edge issues that promote environmental protection and sustainability effors.
Over 100 Michigan Law students have collaborated since fall 2010 on the first comprehensive empirical study of environmental criminal prosecutions in the United States. The students are obtaining and reviewing court documents from over 1,000 cases prosecuted from January 1, 2005, through December 31, 2010, and creating a searchable database about all pollution prosecutions investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during that time frame. The database will facilitate research and analysis about criminal enforcement, including the charges that are most frequently brought, the size of the corporations involved, case outcomes, discretionary factors that make environmental violations criminal, and geographical disparities in criminal enforcement under the environmental laws. Research results will be published and shared with Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the EPA.
Every year, the Michigan Supreme Court makes decisions that have a critical impact on environmental protection and natural resources use. The Court's role is likely to increase in future years as the state grapples with issues pertaining to water rights, sulfide mining, land use, and air quality. The Green Gavels Project will begin with a review of Michigan Supreme Court decisions over the last five years (and eventually cover the last two decades) to identify all decisions that have promoted or hindered environmental protection. Students working on the project will analyze each decision and produce summaries that explain the significance of the decision and how each Supreme Court justice voted. The information will then be provided to the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, which will produce a non-partisan online report about the role of the Court and the voting records of individual justices that will be broadly available to the public on a website that is heavily marketed, easily discovered, and seamlessly navigated. If the project is successful, it will become a model for efforts to assess how elected state Supreme Courts are influencing conservation efforts throughout the United States.