William S. Eubanks II
Understanding the scientific background is really important when you are practicing environmental law.”
LLM in Environmental Law, 2008
Associate Attorney, Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal
Two weeks before he was to begin work at Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, a D.C.-based public interest law firm, Bill Eubanks received a phone call from his new colleagues.
"They said, ‘We have a great project for you. How would you like to work on a U.S. Supreme Court brief?'" Eubanks recalls. He didn't dwell long before giving them an answer: "I jumped at the opportunity. It was a fantastic start to what I hope to be an incredible career."
The case was Winter v. NRDC, a case that drew national and international attention. The U.S. Navy had sought to overturn a decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that halted the Navy's practice of using high-powered sonar during training exercises, which the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and others said had likely caused harm to whales and other marine mammals in violation of numerous federal environmental laws.
The amicus brief that Eubanks helped author was filed in support of NRDC on behalf of eight of the nation's leading non-profit conservation and animal rights groups. It challenged the government's claims and focused on two legal issues as they relate to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): the question of what degree of harm is sufficient to constitute "irreparable injury" to obtain injunctive relief, and the role of an Environmental Impact Statement as compared to an Environmental Assessment.
The case was heard by the Supreme Court during its October 2008 session, and the Court issued a decision the following month. While the Court's ruling did not go in NRDC's favor, Eubanks said the narrow scope of the high court's decision "means there wasn't large-scale damage done to NEPA," the nation's premier environmental protection law.
Within hours of the ruling, Eubanks set out to write a law review article on the case. Because the Court left many important legal questions under NEPA unresolved in its narrow ruling, Eubanks expects that his law review article will fill this void by providing critical guidance to the federal judiciary in the absence of instruction from the Supreme Court.
For Eubanks, the challenge of working on a Supreme Court brief was not something he envisioned when growing up as the son of a schoolteacher and a trial attorney in Black Mountain, N.C.
"I always said I would never be an attorney because of the stress the job placed on my father. That was one career path I knew I wouldn't pursue," says Eubanks.
However, Eubanks' career plans were far from certain when he began his undergraduate coursework. In fact, Eubanks says, "I went to college with the erroneous assumption that success could be measured only by financial gain."
But he soon learned that his evolving personal values did not align with the business path he had initially chosen. Thus, Eubanks changed course and became a history major. What he found most compelling about history was how it intersected with law, particularly when he studied Native American and environmental issues.
Despite his earlier protests, he soon found himself pursuing a JD at North Carolina Central University hoping to effect positive social change with his law degree. After his first year in law school he landed a summer internship with a highly regarded environmental lawyer in North Carolina.
"Bob Epting took me under his wing, and by the end of summer, I was hooked."
Eubanks returned to law school and established the school's Environmental Law Society in an effort to involve the school and the community at large in environmental protection issues affecting North Carolina's citizens. A second internship took him to the Southern Environmental Law Center, where he drafted memoranda on a handful of environmental lawsuits, including some on the Clean Air Act that would eventually be used in briefs before the Supreme Court.
While he was determined to work in public interest environmental law after graduation, he found that he lacked the coursework to secure employment in such a small and competitive field. His job offers after law school would have taken him in another direction, so knowing of Vermont Law School's reputation in environmental law, he applied for its LLM program and decided to attend VLS after weighing offers from the nation's top three Environmental Law LLM programs.
As Eubanks sees it, his successful landing with a prominent environmental firm is directly tied to his having used the LLM program to its full potential. During the year, he interned at the Conservation Law Foundation and "used every credit hour available" to him to maximize his environmental legal knowledge.
"I was so eager to learn that I took every opportunity I could find," he says. His formula included a mix of academic coursework, doctrinal scholarship, in-depth thesis research, and hands-on experience. He notes that the experience of being taught by experienced environmental practitioners such as Pat Parenteau proved invaluable, offering keen insights on litigation strategy. He also credits VLS for its unique approach of having Craig Pease, a PhD scientist and non-lawyer, on faculty, who he says "is phenomenal at distilling the scientific issues for attorneys."
"Understanding the scientific background is really important when you are practicing environmental law," he says. "In water pollution, air pollution, and endangered species cases, scientific knowledge is essential, and I have more experience with these issues than a typical graduating law student because of the lessons I learned during my time at VLS."
Ultimately, his experience at VLS brought to a close an important chapter of personal growth in Eubanks's life. "Now, more than ever, I understand that success is defined by each individual; success for me is striving every day to make the greatest positive impact on our environment, our communities, and our world."
To read the U.S. Supreme Court brief that Eubanks coauthored, visit www.abanet.org.
In 2010, Eubanks filed a U.S. Supreme Court brief in a pending case against Monsanto and the USDA under the National Environmental Policy Act. To read Eubanks' recent brief, visit www.abanet.org.
To read law review articles and other legal publications by Eubanks, visit ssrn.com.