Campus News

Photograph of a globe on top of a law book, next to a judge's gavel. Environmental law concept.

Law school announces new graduate program in environmental law


Published July 28, 2017

headshot of Jessica Owley.
“Almost every area of legal practice today touches upon some aspect of environmental law.”
Jessica Owley, professor
School of Law

The School of Law has developed a new graduate program in environmental law that is designed to prepare the next generation of global leaders in environmental scholarship, research and public policy.

The program, co-directed by Kim Diana Connolly, professor of law and vice dean for advocacy and experiential education, and Jessica Owley, professor of law, addresses the increased need for lawyers skilled and knowledgeable in the application of legal principles and techniques to environmental and natural-resource problems.

“Whether advocating the position of a public interest group, a corporate client, a government agency or a private citizen, almost every area of legal practice today touches upon some aspect of environmental law,” says Owley. “At a global level, critically important issues such as climate change, sustainability and transnational pollution require an understanding of environmental law and policy.”

The Environmental Law LLM program offers students the opportunity to deepen their knowledge in environmental law and policy through traditional classroom study, experiential learning opportunities and one-on-one academic advising. Students are required to take a minimum of 24 credits of coursework on topics that include pollution control, greening Buffalo, land use, climate change law and policy, historic preservation law and international environmental law.

The program includes a seminar and large research project to teach students the skills needed to analyze environmental law issues and construct arguments around those issues. In addition, every student is required to complete a clinic, practicum or externship where he or she works directly with clients on real environmental disputes in order to prepare them for practice.

Benjamin E. Wisniewski, an associate at the Buffalo law firm of Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP, is the recipient of the first Environmental Law LLM to be conferred by the school.  

“Buffalo is the perfect setting for the Environmental Law LLM program,” he says. “From nature’s majesty in Niagara Falls to the cautionary tale of Love Canal, I cannot think of a better setting to educate new environmental lawyers. Beyond its location, I am confident the curriculum developed by the law school provides an ideal blend of practical instruction and academic exploration.”

Wisniewski, who also received his JD from the UB School of Law in 2014, practices in the area of environmental and energy law, and is a member of his firm’s government investigations and enforcement actions practice team.

“It was a delight to work with Ben,” says Connolly, who served as his experiential learning supervisor and thesis adviser. “He was able to share what he learned from his first few years of practice, which added a lot to the classroom experience for everyone and enhanced his community work. His thesis, ‘Local Legislative Power in New York State: The ‘Ghost of Home Rule,’ the Specter of Dillon and the Need for Exorcism by Constitutional Convention,’ was outstanding.”

The School of Law has a demonstrated history of academic strength in the area of environmental law. JD students may pursue a concentration in this area, participate in the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic or submit an article for publication in the Buffalo Environmental Law Journal. The law school faculty features specialists in wetlands law and policy; international environmental law; the transnational governance of forests, animals and biodiversity; local environmental law; and conservation.

Admission to the LLM program requires a first degree in law. To apply for fall 2017 or to learn more, visit the law school’s website.