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 Legal Practice Course (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 that 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.
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, especially with companies having to respond not only to "new and tougher legislation but also to other external pressures to evidence good environmental practices, for example from their financiers or their customers (or both!)".
Want to find out more about the interesting and developing world of environmental law? We discuss Caroline's work in more detail on the LawCareers.Net Podcast.
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.”
The increased roll out of mandatory Task Force on Climate-Related Finance Disclosures or TCFD reporting is just one example of the type of development that has had a knock-on effect on Caroline’s advice to clients. Equally, the Environment Act 2021 (the Act), which received Royal Assent on 9 November 2021, has introduced some really big changes. Among other things, the Act sets out a comprehensive framework for legally-binding targets to deliver environmental improvements in England, and these will have a significant impact on the regulatory landscape moving forward.
“I’ve really enjoyed building up a rapport with clients and helping them with advice or a difficult situation, like an Environment Agency investigation"
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 environmental due diligence and providing other specialist environmental input in relation to corporate and real estate transactions, for example advising on feedstock and offtake arrangements for large-scale energy from waste projects, as well as providing regulatory environmental advice to clients across the business. 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 co-chair of OC Planet, which promotes sustainability at the firm and she is heavily involved in the sustainability elements of Osborne Clarke's new Bristol office which is currently in construction. She is also a member of Osborne Clarke's decarbonisation team, which works with clients to help them tackle the carbon challenge, for example by discussing their approach to environmental, social and governance metrics or by considering the impact of net zero targets on their business.
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!”
If you're interested in sustainability and a career in environmental law, you can find out what you need to know about this practice area in 'Environmental law: what you need to know'.