Climate Change Law Alumni Profiles

 

Daniel SelmiDaniel P. Selmi

It was more than 40 years ago when a young SCU grad from San Francisco, Daniel P. Selmi B.A. ’72, chose to study environmental law at Santa Clara Law, and to this day his ties to SCU run deep. From his perch now as a full, tenured professor at Loyola Law School, he has a continuing collaboration with his original environmental law teacher, Santa Clara Law Professor Ken Manaster. Together over the past 30 years they have worked on two key publications, writing State Environmental Law and editing all six volumes of California Environmental Law and Land Use Practice.

Selmi credits Santa Clara Law with his targeted launch into a successful career. “Santa Clara fully prepared me to practice environmental law,” he said. He clerked for a federal judge for one year after graduation and then landed in the California attorney general’s office, where he worked in the Environmental Law Section for six years. “That was because when I was a third-year law student at Santa Clara, I externed in the attorney general’s office. So when I was looking for work, the person I externed for was the head of the environmental section for the state and he hired me. I was the first one from Santa Clara hired—they were mostly from Boalt Hall and Stanford and Harvard, and because of Santa Clara I was able to fit right in right away.”

Selmi’s work as a deputy attorney general led to appellate work and his 30-year professorship at Loyola, where he currently teaches land use, natural resources law, and appellate advocacy. He has watched climate change’s impact on teaching law and said, “As far as the academic world is concerned, everybody is convinced that it’s real and convinced that it’s the single biggest environmental problem anybody will face in their lifetime. So there’s a lot of academic interest in it at the same time that the political system doesn’t seem to be responding to it in the way that it should.”


Sonia Feldstein

Sonia Feldstein ’08, staff counsel for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, is a model of the focus and persistence required to land a public interest job as an environmental lawyer. But now that she’s working at DTSC’s Berkeley Regional Office, she’s happy with the mix of environmental law she gets to practice. “I really enjoy the work I get,” she says, “because it’s just such a broad range of information and a broad range of work. I don’t have to push the same forms or paper. I get to learn new things every day.”

Recently she researched who was responsible for contaminants that remain from the 1980s on a site in San Jose, and issued a unilateral cleanup order to 65 parties, including some large corporations that are household names. Since May 2012, it was a huge effort. “All the attorneys for those 65-plus firms contacted me directly,” Feldstein says. “I pretty much had to set everything up myself. I don’t have a secretary or paralegals like you would in a law firm.

“The good thing is,” she continues, “we got the parties to sign up to an agreement so we won’t have to continue through the unilateral enforcement order route, so finally they’re going to start doing a cleanup there in the next month or two. It will be good to see that finally getting taken care of after so many years.”

Feldstein understands from “slightly painful” experience how difficult it can be to secure a public interest job in environmental law. Graduating just as the recession hit full force, she applied to “probably more than 100 places” before volunteering for 10 months as an environmental lawyer in the state attorney general’s natural resources section. Today she makes an effort to help SCU environmental law students and recent grads when they reach out to her, and she is glad to see the University spotlighting environmental law. “It’s one of those fields where persistence really does pay off,” she says. “It shows your commitment to it, and that can be the difference between getting the job or not.”


Kim HughesKim Hughes

Kim Hughes ’88 is senior legal counsel at Weyerhaeuser, one of the country’s largest paper and forest products manufacturers, near Seattle. “My work now is not just environmental,” Hughes says. “It would be nice if I just did environmental work, but our department is relatively small, so we don’t just do environmental work.” She and her three fellow environmental attorneys (the whole department is only 18 lawyers) do litigation work, health and safety, and regulatory compliance issues such as FDA compliance, carbon compliance for California, product regulatory issues, and issues related to REACH issues (Regulation, Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemical substances) in Europe. Then, just to top it off, she is also lead counsel for Weyerhaeuser’s largest division, the cellulose fibers business.

While Hughes’s path to her action-packed position at Weyerhaeuser was relatively quick, it was a bit jagged. After studying business law at Santa Clara Law, she worked for two years at a county prosecuting attorney’s office in Washington State, and then at a boutique firm in Seattle that handled environmental insurance litigation—a lot of it. “In doing that work for several years,” she says, “I determined that, wow, I really like environmental work, and wow, I think I’d like to do this more intensely.

“And when a full-time environmental position opened up here in the Weyerhaeuser law department, I ended up moving in-house,” she continues. “It was nearly four years post-graduation when I did that, so that was pretty early to move to an in-house position. You know, it was a niche specialty and I’ve been here ever since.”

Hughes found it easy to transition from Santa Clara Law to working. “You really do get a good practical grounding in what you need to do once you’re out of law school,” she says.

Her colleagues and friends—some alums and some whose children go to the Law School—also have strong feelings about Santa Clara Law. “A lot of people recognize that SCU is a good place to get an excellent legal education,” she says, “where you’re actually taught to think, you’re taught to be intellectually curious, and you’re taught to have a work ethic that doesn’t always exist everywhere. So that intellectual curiosity, the willingness to dig in and learn things, the can-do attitude that comes out of the school
makes a big difference.”


Arlene IchienArlene Ichien

Arlene Ichien ’79 has spent her entire, long career as an environmental lawyer at the California Energy Commission. Although she retired officially in 2010 as assistant chief counsel, she stills works for the agency as a resource for the powerplant siting program and helps out with conflict of interest problems. “It’s been a nice transition from retirement to easing out of the profession that I’ve been in for almost 30 years, because it was such a stimulating agency,” she says. “It ebbs and flows, but I still remain interested in the work being done there because it is on the progressive edge.”

As staff counsel and then supervising attorney for power plant licensing cases, each case she worked on had a lot of environmental law issues, such as endangered species, air pollution, water quality, visual impacts, local land use plans, noise, public health, traffic, and transportation. In addition, she worked on rule-making proceedings to develop and adopt regulations for various programs, such as energy-efficiency standards for appliances, and a large funding program for research and development in energy projects.

Ichien started at the commission right after she finished law school. “At the time, the Energy Commission was relatively young, too,” she recalls. “Governor Reagan signed the enabling statute into law in 1974. The average age when I started in 1980 was 28 at the commission. So I feel like I’ve grown up there professionally.”

Throughout her career, she has carried a lesson from Santa Clara Law Professor Ken Manaster about using common sense to resolve an environmental problem. “He gave an example,” she recalls. “It was right after a major earthquake in Southern California. There was a bridge that had partially collapsed and a truck got stuck under it. So there was discussion about how to get the truck out from under this bridge, and Professor Manaster said it took a boy coming up with the idea of letting the air out of the tires.

Throughout her career, she has carried a lesson from Santa Clara Law Professor Ken Manaster about using common sense to resolve an environmental problem. “He gave an example,” she recalls. “It was right after a major earthquake in Southern California. There was a bridge that had partially collapsed and a truck got stuck under it. So there was discussion about how to get the truck out from under this bridge, and Professor Manaster said it took a boy coming up with the idea of letting the air out of the tires.


Susan AdamsSusan Adams

As an environmental lawyer, Susan Adams ’81 has worked to keep the air and water clean on both coasts. For the past eight years, she’s been assistant counsel at one of the oldest agencies that protects and improves California’s air, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Before that, for 12 years at New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection and its Corporation Counsel she worked on drinking water and Clean Water Act issues. “The city has phenomenal drinking water,” she says. “That was a great job.”

A native Californian, she also loves her wideranging work now at the Bay Area Air District as in-house counsel. “I really enjoy that mix, which means you address both the governance of the entity itself— personnel, administrative, day-to-day governmental issues—as well as the mission of the agency,” she says. “We draft rules and regulations; we give advice on issues that come before the board of directors.”

Adams is also quite proud to work at the intersection of science and environmental law. “This is an agency that I will say is driven by science, which is one of the great things about this,” Adams says. “Before it takes any decisions on rule making or permit issues, it does make sure there’s strong science to support those positions.”

Adams credits Santa Clara Law with helping her find her professional niche. “I started at Santa Clara really with the idea of going into human rights.” But she heard about an internship at the California State Coastal Conservancy near where she lived, and mentioned it to Professor Dorothy Glancy. “Really, she just seemed to have an understanding of some students as to where they fit,” Adams recalls, “and she said, ‘That is the perfect job for you.’” Adams got the internship, then a job, and stayed for several years knowing she’d found her fit in environmental law. “To me, safe drinking water, clean air, sanitation, these are all human rights that I believe everyone is entitled to. That’s part of civil society.”