Crag Law Center
Nicholas Whitaker is a summer associate at Crag Law Center in Portland, Ore. Crag is a non-profit environmental law center that works with community members and conservation groups on legal issues pertaining to environmental matters.
June 30, 2013
Crag has a client-based approach to its environmental legal work. Its clients include an array of different community and environmental organizations, and the work Crag does for them helps these groups reach their goals, typically dealing with environmental protection and/or public health. Without Crag, many of these organizations would not be able to afford legal representation, and consequently would have difficulty reaching their goals.
Crag's office is fairly small. The entire staff is comprised of three attorneys, one development coordinator, and a paralegal. I do most of my work with Chris Winter, a staff attorney and the co-executive director of Crag. My desk is actually inside Chris's office, so I have been able to sit in on many of his phone calls and really experience what his work entails each day.
Chris gives me my projects, which have so far included the drafting of comments for a proposed odor nuisance strategy in Oregon, drafting of a complaint regarding an Endangered Species Act listing petition, and a lot of legal research relating to a variety of Clean Air Act issues. Outside of these projects, I've also been able to accompany Chris and other attorneys on a site visit to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fish hatchery, where an administrative law judge conducted an on-the-record tour of the facility as part of an water rights forfeiture case. I have also had the opportunity to sit in on a hearing before an Oregon district court judge regarding a new mountain bike park proposed to be built near Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood, and I was able to sit in on two mediation sessions with a district court magistrate judge regarding an Endangered Species Act "take" case.
In all, my experience so far with Crag has been quite varied and very educational. My primary goal for the this summer is to really see what a public interest environmental lawyer does, and so far this goal is being met quite easily. The experiences I detailed above have given me a good look at what it means to be a public interest environmental lawyer. In particular, I have enjoyed meeting Crag's clients, the environmental and community organizations who are working so hard and with such great passion to effect change in their communities.
My other goal is to do more than just legal research, to really do the hands-on work of an attorney. I want to be able to go to hearings, to see what negotiation meetings look like, and to really see what attorneys do out from under the monotony of reading case law and writing memos. For sure, there is plenty of law left for me to learn — I have felt overwhelmed with the Clean Air Act at times this summer — but the law is only part of being an attorney. There are also the interactions with clients, opposing counsel, and judges that are such a big of what attorneys do. This is an important part, and a part I haven't been able to witness until this summer. So far, seeing how the attorneys at Crag communicate with others has been my biggest bit of education. Their ability to simply, clearly put their point across or draw out what the clients' goals are is what I will take away most from this experience when the summer is over.
Aug. 16, 2013
What a whirlwind of a summer. I've just finished my last day at Crag Law Center, and I'm sitting in a coffee shop down the street from our office just trying to take it all in. I've spent the summer in what has seemed like a perpetual state of travel. I traveled for work, with trips to the federal courthouse in Eugene to sit in on mediation sessions, to the flanks of Mt. Hood to examine the landscape of proposed development, and to various communities to meet with clients and community members. I also traveled to see family and friends. My wife was back in Seattle, holding down things while I was gone, which meant a lot of travel up and down the I-5 corridor on weekends.
My experience at Crag this summer was both enriching and fun. I've learned so much law, and I've learned it through some really exciting practical applications. I knew very little about air quality regulation or forest law coming in to the summer, but I had the opportunity to spend substantial amounts of time getting to know each of these areas and the laws that embody them. And importantly, I was able to apply what I learned in a real, substantive way to help our clients, whether it was through commenting on Oregon's proposed nuisance odor policy or detailing the effects of old-growth logging in Alaska on subsistence deer hunting as part of an administrative appeal of a U.S. Forest Service timber sale.
This work was not easy. I spent many frustrated hours hovered over my computer and my book of environmental law statutes, trying to get a grasp of these complex issues and the seemingly endless complex regulations behind them. But as always seems to be the case, right when I thought I might never understand, it would start clicking. Looking back, I am amazed at how much I was able to learn this summer. Of course, it always helps to share an office with an attorney who has been doing this work for more than a decade. Being able to bounce ideas and thoughts off Chris, my supervising attorney, was invaluable to my growth as a law student this summer.
Overall, my summer with Crag was right in line with what I had hoped it would be. I've had the opportunity to see the passion-driven work the public interest lawyers at Crag do. I've learned plenty of law, and, importantly, positioned myself to learn plenty more. I'm much less afraid of not knowing answers than I was three months ago. I've also had the opportunity to interact on a near-daily basis with every type of person a lawyer interacts with in practice. I've spoken with attorneys, clients, expert witnesses, and judges. I've sat in on the meetings, went out in the field, and participated in the conference calls. I've seen the work a public interest environmental lawyer does, and I'm not running away. In fact, I'm drawn to it. I hope to have the opportunity to continue working in environmental law over the next year and after graduation. Moreover, I hope the work I end up doing — wherever I end up — has as much of an impact on my community as the work Crag is doing has on theirs.