Life as a joint JD/MEM student
Last fall, I took my favorite law school class. Karl Coplan, an expert in environmental law and the co-director of Pace Law School’s esteemed Environmental Litigation Clinic, taught a course on the Clean Water Act. He ran the course as a simulation: a quarter of the class represented industry, a quarter environmental activists, a quarter government lawyers or scientists, and the last group was administrative law judges. As the class’s EPA General Counsel, I wrote an internal review on a proposed National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. I felt good about handing that paper in, but I was marked down for allowing chlorine discharge to continue and for limiting too strictly aluminum and manganese discharges.
At Yale this fall, I am taking Physical Sciences for Environmental Management. Shimi Anisfeld – an expert in environmental chemistry – teaches this course. Shimi earned his PhD at MIT in Organic Chemistry, and has the patience to teach chemistry to law students. The course is incredibly dense: in one semester, we have studied
environmental science topics ranging from geochemistry, geology, and soils, to nutrient cycling, water quality, global carbon cycling, and climate change. Late in the semester, we studied the ambient water quality standards for Connecticut. We discussed the threshold toxicant levels for metals and organic pollutants, and dug into the chemistry that leads to the policy. And there they were! the reasons for limiting aluminum and other metals that have been mobilized by human activity. These metals can bioaccumulate in fish and sorp to clays. Redox active manganese can transfer phases through dissolution and precipitation. Some metals even have complexation reactions, where they hold on to chloride. They’re dangerous and need to be regulated at levels that are safe for drinking or fishing or swimming.
As a joint JD/MEM student at Pace and Yale, I have had the opportunity to learn the law of environmental practice, and the science that informs this practice. I decided to do the joint program in the first place because I thought that I would be inefficient and ineffective at representing clients as their environmental lawyer unless I understood science behind the law.
And the joint program has been great so far! It’s a balancing act, but I am benefiting from incredible resources at Pace and Yale. I’m learning the chemical properties of pollutants and can explain why they are regulated at certain levels. Though I am at Yale full time, I’m still involved with the Pace Environmental Law Review and touch base with my classmates at Pace a few times each week. At Yale, I participate in the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy (YCELP), and I collaborate with other joint degree students on how to strengthen the joint program.
If you’re considering the joint program but do not necessarily want to practice law, you should know that many of the joint degree students intend to go into policy. YCELP plans to distribute a handbook to Vermont Law, Pace Law, and Yale Law, helping students understand the program requirements. Look for a blog post soon about this update!