University: University of Bristol
Issues such as climate change and the need for alternative energy sources make environmental laws more important than ever. Environmental regulations seek to limit pollution and to minimise the impact of human activity on the natural world. This sweeping objective means that environmental lawyers are involved in a wide range of matters, from health and safety, risk management, contaminated land, waste, renewable energy and environmental finance; to commercial and property transactions, nuclear law and litigation. Clients can include individuals, community groups, companies of all sizes, local authorities and governments.
Customer service might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of a solicitor, but for Caroline Bush, the two go hand in hand. Luckily, Caroline spent a number of years working in retail before deciding to pursue a career in law – first at a small publishing house and then as assistant manager of an independent bookshop. “People always ask ‘how on earth did that lead to a career in law?’” she laughs. “I think it shows how many transferrable skills you need to be a lawyer. All I did all day, every day was deal with customers, which was good training. Without your clients you haven’t got a business and it’s the same in retail.”
This professional experience came in handy for Caroline, who was able to treat her conversion course like a nine-to-five. However, things were different when she began the LPC in her second year: “Everyone told me that the second year would be really easy after the first, but I found the LPC quite challenging in terms of the intensity and volume of the work. I bought myself a road bike in the summer between because everyone said ‘you’ll have loads of time,’ but I didn’t get out on it as much as I’d hoped!”
However, Caroline was more than able to rise to the challenge, a skill which has stood her in good stead as an environmental solicitor. “Honestly, I have to go for a walk after some of the work I do,” she laughs. “The law is so complex; it just ties you up in knots.”
Hitting the ground running
Unlike other areas of law, environment trainees are often expected to get stuck in from the get-go. “There might be the odd discrete research task,” Caroline explains, “but a lot of what I did then I still do now, so you get a real feel as a trainee for what you’ll be doing when you qualify.” Trainees in the team have to work hard and function well under pressure, as a lot of reliance is put on their research findings. However, for Caroline, performing what she calls “seat-of-your-pants” work was a brilliant experience, so she was delighted when she had the opportunity to qualify into the Osborne Clarke team.
“I’ve really enjoyed building up a rapport with clients and helping them with advice or a difficult situation, like an Environment Agency investigation"
Another quality that Caroline believes makes a successful environment solicitor is commercial awareness. “You need to be able to pick up the phone to a client and not just give them correct legal advice, but also understand the wider context of what they do.” Being able to understand the commercial reality of issues such as climate change is also key, and Caroline recognises that her clients "have budgets and targets and they have to justify making a big change to their business from a bottom-line perspective.” Luckily, there is hope in this regard, with new legislation proving to make a big difference. “Microbeads is a really interesting example of a new law being pushed through really quickly and immediately having an effect on producers and how they deal with that particular product.”
Being able to roll with the punches is vital in the ever-changing field of environment law. “There are so many things that can influence your work” Caroline explains. “A lot of what we do in energy and environment is driven by the current government, so in addition to knowing the law you need to have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on at a political level.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s 25-year environment plan and the government’s decision to cut solar energy subsidies are just some of the developments which have had a knock-on effect on Caroline’s advice to clients. The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union is another major consideration at present, particularly in terms of how the environment will be regulated post-Brexit. “The environment doesn’t respect borders,” quips Caroline. “A bird doesn’t know whether it has flown from the UK to the EU, so there will be a lot of issues to consider which the UK hasn’t had to think about in a long time.”
Variety is the spice of life
While some might be put off by this uncertainty, for Caroline, it’s one of the things that she loves most about her job. “I really like that when I sit down at my desk in the morning and open my emails, I don’t quite know what’s going to be on my agenda for the day.”
The sheer volume of work undertaken by Osborne Clarke’s environment and energy team is impressive. Caroline’s role predominantly encompasses transactional work regarding the acquisition or construction and operation of commercial buildings and renewables assets, and providing regulatory and environmental advice to clients in the energy and utilities sector. This is where her customer service skills really come into play: “I’ve really enjoyed building up a rapport with clients and helping them with advice or a difficult situation, like an Environment Agency investigation.”
A perfect fit
Unsurprisingly for her line of work, Caroline is passionate about the environment. Osborne Clarke is therefore a great fit for her, as it provides employees with numerous opportunities to get involved in non-law related activities. Caroline is an active member of its sustainable business group, which promotes sustainability at the firm and also maintains a beehive and an allotment and is undertaking a number of initiatives to reduce its carbon output.
When asked whether she has any advice for aspiring solicitors, Caroline is quick to encourage aiming high: “I didn’t think I stood a snowflake’s chance in hell of getting a training contract, let alone at Osborne Clarke,” she admits. “It’s massively competitive, but the really important thing to bear in mind is that different firms look for different things. Be yourself and don’t write yourself off!”