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Introducing our Environment & Climate Change Practice

July 2021: Seth Kerschner is a partner in White & Case's Environment & Climate Change Practice, based in New York. He explains how a life-long interest in the environment led him to this varied, busy and expanding area of the law.

"White & Case's Environment & Climate Change Practice includes approximately 80 lawyers globally. We handle some of the world's largest and most sophisticated matters requiring the resolution of complex environmental issues. Many of my clients are public or private companies that operate industrial or energy facilities. Our practice advises on a gamut of environmental laws from local remediation programs to national environmental policy regulations to international climate change treaties."

The increasing importance of climate change

Seth explains the importance of climate change issues on his practice: "It's an increasingly central part of our work. For instance, our Renewable Energy practice continues to remain very active, as clients look for our help in developing and financing renewable energy projects in order to meet greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals."

He shares an example of the kind of work this important issue entails: "On international climate change work specifically, I counseled a foreign government in connection with its climate change treaty negotiations between 2014 and 2018. This involved providing real-time guidance and advice to the client's negotiating team before, during and after the negotiating sessions that led to the Paris Agreement to the UNFCCC in December 2015."

An inherently international environmental challenge

He notes that the focus of his team's work has changed over time: "Historically, the international climate change treaty negotiations that led to the Paris Agreement and the subsequent development and implementation of the Agreement's rules kept us the busiest. More recently, we are seeing clients with assets in coastal jurisdictions or jurisdictions with greater risks associated with severe weather events. Also, climate change litigation keeps us very active. Climate change is an inherently international environmental challenge. Rather than being busy in particular countries, we are busiest on complex cross-border matters that involve climate change."

A life-long fascination with the environment

How did Seth choose this practice area? "I've always been fascinated with how humans impact the physical environment and related issues associated with overpopulation, pollution and deforestation. I studied history and urban planning as an undergraduate. Eventually I became more of an environmental law generalist. Now I work on the issues I am fascinated with on a global scale at a global law firm."

A day in the life: Matters than span the globe

Seth takes us through a typical working day: "I might spend my morning working with a client focused on the conversion of a fossil fuel-fired power plant into a solar plant here on the East Coast of the US. Then, later in the morning, I'll meet with regulatory law colleagues in Brussels. I might spend some time in the afternoon working on a dispute involving contaminated land on the West Coast of the US or a global energy company on how to prevent and tackle oil spills while conducting deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The day might finish up with M&A lawyers in Asia assisting a local client looking to acquire pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in the US."

He adds that, "I read a lot, write a lot and spend a lot of time talking on the phone. Environmental law, especially, involves reading hundreds (if not thousands) of pages a day that can sometimes be quite technical. A lot of what I do involves trying to apply technical information to the law and explain to clients or other decision-makers what the outcome is when you apply the law."

Advice for future environmental lawyers

What advice does he have for someone seeking a career in this area? "Environmental law is always changing. So I spend a lot of time each day reading about developments in cases or regulatory changes being proposed or implemented by different government entities, for example. I think it is very important to keep up with these constant changes. Attention to detail is critically important."

The future for environmental law

How do you see this practice area evolving in the future? "There are many in the legal profession who believe in using the law to secure the rights of all people to a healthy and sustainable planet. Assuming we continue to see increases in international demand for protection of the global climate, the planet, and the people and other living things that inhabit it, then I think we will continue to see significant growth in climate law as a practice area."