Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic

The Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic trains law students in environmental lawyering. Under the supervision of faculty who are experienced environmental lawyers, students work on behalf of environmental and community groups on litigation and regulatory matters. Working closely with nonprofit and government agency partners and clients, the clinic takes on the most important environmental issues in southern California and beyond.

The Wells Clinic offers excellent opportunities for students to obtain hands-on experience practicing environmental law. Students who take this six-unit course work on large and small cases, involving both federal and state law. The clinic teaches conceptual frameworks that support particular lawyering skills, while at the same time exposing students to real-world environmental law practice through intensive work on particular environmental issues.

Clinic Faculty

Co-Directors Sean Hecht and Cara Horowitz direct the work of the Wells Clinic. They supervise and teach students in the clinic, along with other instructors. Previous clinic directors have included Ann Carlson and Timothy Malloy. Among the current faculty, Ethan Elkind, Megan Herzog and Jesse Lueders have taught in the clinic.
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Selected Wells Clinic Work

  • In 2013, two students from the Wells Clinic traveled to Washington, D.C. to present research on marine plastics pollution, at a workshop attended by more than 100 people, including Senate staff, federal and state agency officials, industry representatives, and members of the NGO community. Following the workshop, the clinic students joined client Surfrider Foundation in follow-up visits with Senate staff to discuss the details of the proposed federal actions to reduce the production and improper disposal of heavily-littered plastic items.

  • In 2012, the clinic assisted with drafting and refining SB 1201, a new law that extended the L.A. County Flood Control District’s management of the Los Angeles River to include – for the first time – a mandate to “provide for public use of navigable waterways under the district’s control that are suitable for recreational and educational purposes.”  Working with Friends of the Los Angeles River and other advocacy organizations, the clinic was instrumental in the efforts that led to adoption of this new law (sponsored by Sen. Kevin De Leon).  The law has facilitated new recreational opportunities on the River, including kayaking and open recreation.

  • In 2011, the clinic partnered with Islands First, an organization that helps small island nations to advance their environmental goals to try to avoid the negative consequences of climate change. Two students accompanied Islands First to the United Nations’ COP17 climate change conference in Durban, South Africa to assist with the organization’s advocacy efforts.

  • In 2009, the clinic filed an amicus brief in the 2010 California Supreme Court case Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management District. On behalf of a broad coalition of environmental advocacy groups, the Clinic argued that the review of environmental impacts of new factory processes and equipment must compare the pollution emitted by new processes and equipment against actual existing conditions, rather than against whatever emissions hypothetically would have been allowable under old permits. In March, 2010, the Court adopted the clinic's position in its opinion.

  • In 2009, the clinic drafted a motion for members of the Hopi tribe challenging approval of a permit to consolidate mines of the Black Mesa Complex coal mining project on Hopi and Navajo lands in Arizona. This permit would have set the stage for future mining in an area that had already experienced severe impacts on water supply, water quality and other resources as the result of decades of strip-mining of coal. The motion argued that an environmental impact statement prepared for the permit approval failed to consider alternatives to the proposed action and failed to inform the public adequately about the nature of the action being taken. The clinic’s motion, filed on behalf of Kendall Nutumya and other tribal members, was filed before an administrative law judge at the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Surface Mining, who adopted the clinic’s arguments and ruled that the environmental impact statement was inadequate. This was a significant victory that affected both the policy and politics of future mining in the area.
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Student Experiences

“The Environmental Law Clinic provided me with some of my most valuable, practical experiences in law school.  Having the opportunity to ask questions and go through multiple drafts of my legal writing with the professors was invaluable training.  Also through the clinic, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve as an NGO delegate at the UNFCCC in Durban, South Africa.  It was eye-opening and inspiring to be involved with the daily process of the foremost international climate change negotiations.  The clinic also helped prepare me for future environmental law classes, as it gave me context for many environmental law issues.  I think that any extra practical experience is helpful for aspiring attorneys, and the Environmental Law Clinic provides a unique opportunity for structured, hands-on experience.”

Lauren Bernadett, UCLA Law Class of 2013

 

“The Environmental Law Clinic provided outstanding practical experience working for live clients. Working on real legal matters provides incomparable experience and an opportunity to apply doctrinal knowledge and develop legal skills with the guidance of experienced professors. One of my projects in the clinic was a matter under the Clean Air Act in which we investigated an innovative tool to advance cleaning the notoriously polluted air of Southern California. I worked for that client the next summer, and was able to continue working on the project I started that summer. There’s no question that the clinics at UCLA Law provide tremendous opportunity and experience.”

Dustin Maghamfar, UCLA Law Class of 2009

 

Jesse Swanhuyser (Class of 2011) talks about his experiences with the Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic

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