Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Land Use ≠ Environmental Law?

Yesterday, I wrote about my epiphany of recognizing myself as a Land Use professor. Today, I want to explore the interplay between Land Use and other subject areas. One of the challenges of the legal field is the way we compartmentalize our subjects. We place things (classes, articles, professors) into categories and sometimes overlook the interactions and synergies among the categories. This mirrors the structure of many of our laws. Environmental laws are notorious examples of this. We regulate land, air, and water separately without acknowledging that one cannot stop land, air, and water from interacting and affecting each other.

While I don’t teach a class labeled “Land Use,” the subject is present in all the classes I teach. This semester I am teaching Natural Resources Law and a seminar entitled “Land Conservation in a Changing Climate: Collaborative Conservation” (more on this in coming weeks). Both of these classes heavily involve discussions of land use, as does my property law class. In fact, I question whether there is any environmental law or property professor out there who is *not* a land use prof.

This raises an opposing question. Can you be a Land Use professor without being an Environmental Law professor? I have at least two friends (both junior scholars) who have balked when I described them as being part of their school’s Environmental Law Programs. Several well-established land use scholars also avoid the environmental law label and decline to attend conferences marketed as such. Why does this distinction persist and does it benefit the students or the field?

Arguably, in a tough job market, it may help students to distinguish themselves. Perhaps developing a Land Use expertise highlights to employers that you are interested in real estate or transactional work, while Environmental Law tends to coincide with litigation? I practiced at a firm that combined the two subject areas (at least in name), but many firms place their Land Use people with the Real Estate section and the Environmental Law people in Litigation. I’ll leave the debate about student specialization to career services. In thinking about law prof specialization though, I’m eager to hear thoughts about why we have these distinctions and what benefits they deliver.

- Jessica Owley

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In the academic world, the land use/environmental distinction is good for environmental professors and not so good for land use professors, since the former tend to be in more demand, both in the hiring market and when trying to get the courses they want to teach.

I also think it is a fairly sharp distinction, rightly or wrongly. When I was looking for jobs, I tried to market myself as an environmental law professor but was rarely able to get interviews for these positions, because land use is often not viewed as "real" environmental law. Similarly, I have only had a chance to teach environmental law in a real summer session when the "real" environmental law professors were out of town.

Posted by: Michael Lewyn | Feb 3, 2011 8:19:30 AM