A World of Hurt

It’s become popular in our culture to say that the world has too many lawyers. As part of the World Bank’s office of environmental and international law, Charles “Chuck” Di Leva, JD ’78 sees the changing climate, exploding populations in developing countries, and increasing pressure on the planet’s finite resources — and sees just the opposite.

“Conflict over rights is inherent,” he says, “and the growth in conflict as the world changes will be almost exponential: workers vs. employers; communities vs. corporations; water rights; property rights; environmental standards. In many places, there’s not even a consistent set of laws that applies to the national, regional, and provincial levels. The world needs more lawyers, not fewer.”

The situations Di Leva sees in his work are numbingly complex. To pick just a handful from hundreds: In Manilla, a projected 800,000 people will need to relocate as sea levels rise, each of them with a right to some kind of compensation and new start. In Southeast Asia, a planned major hydro facility will impact the riparian rights of two other countries downstream. In Africa, an expansion of a game preserve leads to a spike in poaching, as local residents lose farmland and economic opportunity. In former dictatorships, mineral resources go up for grabs in a legal vacuum. The urgent need for new laws and structures to sort out the inherent conflicts is pushing a historically bureaucratic organization to respond quickly and creatively.

Di Leva — who speaks French and Spanish, who studied biology and earth sciences as an undergraduate, who became passionate about the environment at Vermont Law School — notes that the lawyers the world needs most are the kinds of lawyers being trained right now at Vermont Law School. Entrepreneurial. Trained across disciplines. Creative. Savvy. Dedicated to social justice and to protecting the environment. Guided by the conviction that the good of society—indeed, the survival of the planet as we know it—ultimately rests on good law.