Lee Zarzecki is an Assistant Regional Counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region III Office of Regional Counsel in Philadelphia. The Office of Regional Counsel provides the agency with legal counsel on matters arising under the major federal environmental statutes such as the Clean Air Act; Clean Water Act; Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA); Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA); and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
The University of Colorado Law School has a renowned environmental law program and I truly believe this helped open doors for me. I hoped that a law degree from Colorado Law would help me pursue my goal of practicing law for the EPA, and it did just that.
I had the good fortune of interviewing for a number of environmental law positions and time and again employers commented on Colorado Law’s stellar environmental law reputation. In addition, doing research work with the Center for Energy and Environmental Security (now part of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment) enabled me to acquire real world experience while I was still in school.
I took a number of environmental law courses but also made it a point to enroll in classes that I knew little about. For example, I enrolled in corporations, wills and trusts, and legislation; all subjects that I have applied in my practice. Administrative law, environmental law, legal writing, and trial advocacy are the courses that best prepared me for what I am doing currently.
While in school, I clerked with Qwest Communications, Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons, the Center for Energy and Environmental Security, and the EPA’s Region 8 Office of Enforcement Compliance and Environmental Justice. Each of these experiences helped me become a better lawyer.
A great deal of my work consists of communicating with my clients and opposing counsel. Understanding how to juggle different personalities and agendas, while keeping sight of the overall objective, is a skill that all good lawyers should master. I have spent a great deal of time watching how more experienced attorneys interact, and I am continually trying to hone my communication skills.
An early mentor of mine once said, “The way of the world is meeting people through other people” and it has always stuck with me. Most law students dread the idea of attending networking events. While it may seem like a daunting endeavor at first, networking is a critical part of the equation.
I found it personally rewarding to seek out people in the Denver legal community who have interesting biographies and who are in positions where I would like to be in five, ten, or twenty years from now. I sent an email to offer to buy them a cup of coffee and simply ask them about how they came to the position they are in and what they would do differently if they were a young attorney starting in today’s legal market. Over the years, many of these relationships have grown and have helped me develop my career.
For most students, law school is the last time to dedicate time specifically to learning. Take the educational experience seriously. Also, be open-minded about internship opportunities and courses. Some of the most influential moments in my law school career came from the least expected places.