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Most law students take their first introductory course in environmental law during their second year of law school. The traditional first-year curriculum does little to prepare students for the complex statutory and regulatory models for most environmental regulation. Law students at the end of their first year often have had little exposure to statutory interpretation. Further, they often have no exposure to administrative law and regulatory implementation. These students may expect statutes to provide clear statements of rules rather than guidelines for administrative rulemaking. They also tend to view the lawmaking and interpretive process through the traditional lens of congressional legislation and common-law-style judicial interpretation in a bipolar scheme of implementation--where the regulatory agencies and the regulated industries are the only players.

In fact, environmental regulatory programs constantly evolve through a complex interaction of legislative amendment, administrative rulemaking, and judicial interpretation. Influencing these programs are the multipolar interaction of regulated industries, environmental groups, state agencies, and federal regulators. Law students accustomed to the bipolar model of common-law legal development and who expect statutory law to consist of a simple reading of clear statutory texts can find this interest group pluralist model of law development bewildering. One way to help give context to this complex interaction is to place students in the roles of the various advocates and decision-makers in the environmental law processes. Assigning students to adopt the perspective of various distinct players in the regulatory process, such as agency lawyer, industry lawyer, and environmental NGO lawyer, helps make this complex interaction more accessible to students. This also provides an introduction into the skills of statutory interpretation and regulatory implementation.

At Pace Law School, we have had considerable success integrating this approach into an Environmental Law Skills course. This course combines a comprehensive study of the Clean Water Act (CWA) regulatory program with skills-based exercises in administrative rulemaking, judicial review, regulatory permitting, negotiation, and enforcement. The course was added to the curriculum in the 1990s in response to the growing recognition by the legal academy that the traditional case-oriented method of instruction failed to result in law graduates with basic competencies expected of lawyers. The course has been refined over the years to incorporate the Carnegie Report's more recent critiques: the legal education's failure to foster students' development of their professional identities and their understanding of lawyers' role in representing clients. By integrating role-playing, problem solving, and doctrinal instruction, the course seeks to engage students in active learning and professional identity development. The course also seeks to implement recommendations for the improvement of legal instruction contained in Professor Stuckey's influential 2007 report, Best Practices for Legal Education. In particular, the course seeks to “teach doctrine, theory, and practice as part of a unified, coordinated program of instruction” as recommended in that report.