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Growing interest in energy law has spurred increased course offerings and a student group at Michigan Law.

Interest in Energy Law Drives New Course Offerings, Student Group at MLaw

By Jenny Whalen
June 6, 2013

While renewable energy serves only a fraction of today's energy needs, David Uhlmann, Jeffrey F. Liss Professor from Practice, predicts it will become a dominant force in the United States by mid-century and generate a host of opportunities for attorneys who understand the field and are well-versed in its legal requirements.

The director of Michigan Law's Environmental Law and Policy Program (ELPP), Uhlmann has witnessed his program's offerings grow from one energy law-related course to four in the last year alone as student interest has spread across the energy spectrum, from renewables to issues associated with more traditional forms such as oil, nuclear, and natural gas.

"One of the reasons Michigan Law created an environmental law program was in response to student demand for broader environmental programming," Uhlmann said. "It's no surprise given the importance of energy law to climate change mitigation efforts, as well as career opportunities now available, that we have seen student interest increase in this area."

Representing this interest among students is the Michigan Energy Law Association, or MEnergy. Founded by a group of 1Ls and 2Ls in spring 2011, MEnergy advocates for an increased selection of energy law-related courses and directly provides resources for MLaw students interested in the field.

"Energy law covers a wide range of topics," said MEnergy co-founder Gabe Tabak, '13. "While there is some overlap with environmental law, energy law is a largely distinct field. Our group goals have been to bring in speakers on a range of energy law topics, increase energy law offerings in the curriculum, and increase student involvement with energy opportunities at other schools, such as Ross, SRNE, and the engineering schools."

Now an alumnus, Tabak said he is pleased to note that on some level, MEnergy is succeeding in all three of its goals, from bringing in expert speakers to discuss the Keystone XL pipeline to seeing three energy law-related courses added to the School's course offerings.

And like the interest area it represents, the organization itself will continue to evolve in the coming academic year.

"We don't want to be pigeonholed as a subset of the Environmental Law Society," said 2L and new MEnergy co-chair Alison Toivola. "We're trying to diversify and look into issues like human rights and oil, entrepreneurship, renewable energy, business, and technology. Energy law is not a static field and there are a lot of issues that lawyers are going to need to resolve."

Issues such as land-use for natural gas pipelines and transmission lines, environmental regulations regarding resource extraction, patents for new energy technologies, enforcement for violators, and contracts allocating funding or profits, to name a few.

"Anytime there is significant growth in the economy, there are going to be opportunities for lawyers. Renewable energy will be no different," Uhlmann said.

But in studying energy law, as for other specialties, the first and most important requirement for students is to master the art of lawyering, he added. "Before they can become experts in energy law, they need to be well trained as attorneys."

Once students have obtained that training, programs and student organizations such as ELPP and MEnergy provide a fundamental grounding in specific areas of the law.

"There is a tremendous amount happening today at the intersection of environmental and energy law, which is reflected in the ELPP curriculum at Michigan," Uhlmann said. "We're unique among the top law schools in providing a range of course offerings focused exclusively on energy law topics and our hope is to expand those offerings in the years ahead."

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