Next semester’s environmental law and policy course will mark the 23rd year of a unique partnership program between local law schools and Boston College’s undergraduate community. The program, inaugurated in 1991, provides BC students the opportunity to take a law school-style course in their undergraduate career. The cause is taught by third-year law students at BC, Boston University, and Harvard, under the supervision of Zygmunt Plater, a professor within BC Law.
Though longstanding at BC, the program is the only one of its kind, in that it permits third-year law students to teach at the college level and undergraduates who perform well in the course to take other classes at the law school in their sophomore, junior, or senior years.
Although the syllabus for the class differs from section to section, as each pair of law students design their own focus for the course, environmental law and policy serves primarily as an introduction to various facets of law through the lens of environmental policy.
According to Matthew Karambelas, BC Law ’14, who will teach the course for the first time this spring, the course will begin with an overview of common law lawsuits, focusing on private citizens taking action against polluters and the logistics of filing a lawsuit, before covering statutory law, which involves the government taking action against polluters, as well as international environmental law treaties and the future of environmental law. Other courses focus on constitutional or other types of law.
For undergraduates, it offers a law school experience before law school. “It’s a different way of learning from other classes you take in college-it’s less learning just information and more of taking information you’ve learned and applying it to a situation you’ve never seen before,” Karambelas said. “It can be a little nerve-wracking when you first become a law student to have to go through that in the testing room, but if you’ve already done that before, you’ll be more comfortable used to that kind of testing.”
Still, he emphasizes that the course is open to students of all interests. “I think it’s a huge benefit for people who are interested in law school, but it’s also a great class for people who aren’t pre-law, because it’s relevant to science, real estate law, food and drug law, and health law, so even biology majors, nursing majors, and business majors would be interested,” he said. “It has applicability to all kinds of disciplines.”
Francesca McCaffrey, A&S ’14 and an alumna of the program, echoed his sentiments. “Taking environmental law and policy was one of the defining points of my time here at BC,” she said. “I’ve always loved both science and writing and taking that course allowed me to apply these interests to a dynamic and exciting field. The law students who taught my class were passionate and smart, and they inspired me to continue researching environmental issues, and, eventually, to work for the Environmental Protection Agency the summer after my junior year.”
The program also proves beneficial to the law students. The experience of teaching a class, one most of the environmental law and policy teachers have never had before, prepares them for the courtroom: “When you’re a trial lawyer, you have to take a really complex issue and boil it down to its basic parts in presenting it to a group of jurors from various backgrounds,” Karambelas said. “So that’s sort of what we’re doing. The teaching program is trying to take complex legal issues and present them in a way that people who have no experience in the law can understand.”
Using environmental law as a lens through which to view all branches of law also helps them prepare for the Bar exam.
“Environmental law is not one area of law, like contract law or property law, but it takes environmental issues that come up in almost every area,” Karambelas said. “So it really is going to help me in preparing for the bar exam, because in teaching this class, you have to know constitutional law, common law, statutory law, regulatory law, corporate law, real estate law, health law, and many other areas. It’s bringing it all together.
“Environmental law is definitely something interesting for all, regardless of whether students consider themselves to be ‘pre-law,'” he said. “And, for those interested in becoming lawyers, environmental issues will never go away and are becoming increasingly important for clients and the public.”