Earth protector: Shasta Fields ’23 to work at the intersection of tribal and environmental law

May 8, 2023
Shasta Fields

If Shasta Fields ’23 were to have a superhero name, it would be Earth Protector. The graduating 3L came to UCLA School of Law specifically to make waves in environmental law.

She succeeded. Fields’ experience includes clerking with a major environmental nonprofit, working on a case with the California Attorney General’s Office, researching zoning laws as part of her participation in the Environmental Law Clinic, serving as president of the Environmental Law Society (ELS) and serving as chief comment editor for the Journal of Environmental Law and Policy (JELP).

“I knew I wanted to practice environmental law before I came to law school, so it was very important to me to go somewhere that had a robust environmental program,” she says. “Not only is the natural world beautiful, it’s also our home. So, I can't think of work that is more important and worth doing.”

UCLA School of Law is home to the #1 environmental law program in the country, which is bolstered by its Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, the center of all things environmental at UCLA Law and the home of many of the extracurricular and experiential opportunities Fields took part in.

Fields came to UCLA Law as an Achievement Fellow, a school-based scholarship that covers tuition for high-achieving students. “As a low-income student, financial assistance was a huge consideration for me in deciding where to go to law school. Being awarded the scholarship has opened many doors for me, and I am so grateful for that,” she says.

Here, we talk to Fields about her superhero-level experience in environmental law, her extracurricular activities (they involve trophies!), and her post-graduation plans.

What drew you to UCLA Law’s environmental law program?

I think that UCLA Law's environmental program is great because of the faculty, the courses and the extracurriculars. First, the faculty support is fantastic. During my time at UCLA Law, the professors were always there to answer any questions I had, and they helped me build connections in the world of environmental law. When I was deciding on which job offer to accept, I immediately went to my environmental faculty advisor for guidance, and he helped me think through my options. Second, UCLA Law offers so many environmental courses, such as water law, California environmental law, environmental justice law, natural resources law and energy law – just to name a few! In fact, there are so many great courses in environmental law that I didn't have time to take everything that I wanted. Third, there are so many opportunities to get involved in the environmental law community. The Environmental Law Society is a great way to make friends and build connections with your future peers in law.

What type of experiences in environmental law have you had?

During my first summer, I was a Diversity and Inclusion Fellow with the California Attorney General’s Office, Environment, Land Law, and Natural Resources division. My favorite project was a pesticide enforcement case because I did a deep dive into the case, and it produced a wide variety of assignments. The attorneys on the case allowed me to draft a petition and several declarations, which gave me great writing experience. I was also able to lead a meeting with the client, which is an important skill that most of my friends did not get to experience during their first summer. I also went on a site visit, where we drove several hours to interview a witness and tour a site. I think that project allowed me to see many sides of "lawyering," which was great for building foundational skills and getting a better understanding of the job.

During my second summer, I worked at Earthjustice as a law clerk. One of the projects that I worked on was a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice against the U.S. Postal Service for their decision to replace their postal fleet with gas-guzzling trucks. USPS planned to only make 10% of their fleet electric, and I spent a large portion of my summer working on the litigation. A couple of weeks after I left Earthjustice, I found out that the USPS had committed to making 70% of their fleet electric. It was incredibly rewarding to find out that the work I had done had contributed directly to change that would benefit the environment and communities across the country. It was also very encouraging to see the power of litigation as a tool for protecting the environment.

Native law and environmental law have important intersections. How have you been involved in both?

My Tribal affiliation is the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Not only is my background part of my inspiration to attend law school, but the Native community here at UCLA Law has also been an important part of my time at law school. In addition to making friends in the Native American Law Students Association, I have also taken courses in Tribal law and participated in the Tribal Legal Development Clinic.

I have had the opportunity to work directly with Tribal clients, and last month I was fortunate enough to attend the Federal Bar Association's Conference on Indian Law in Albuquerque. My background and experience were also part of what inspired me to pick my post-grad firm, because they do great work in Tribal law involving cultural burning.

You’ve also been involved in UCLA Law's Cappello Trial Advocacy Team, helping to bring home some major victories. What was it like to be on this team?

I have loved my time on the trial advocacy team. I had done mock trial in undergrad, so I already had lots of experience, but I have greatly improved my advocacy skills during my time in law school – and had fun while doing it! This is from a combination of things. First, Justin Bernstein, who runs the law school’s trial ad program, is a fantastic coach. He pushes you to do your best, but he also supports you in order to get there. Second, I have made some of my best friends from the trial team. We travel all over the country together, we spend countless hours together working on the case, and we learn how to work together as a team. Lastly, the team is full of really talented people, which results in a lot of success at competitions. Although it is always fun to win, the program really prioritizes building relationships and foundational advocacy skills.

Editor’s note: Fields was on several winning teams. For example, in October she was on the team that won Tournament of Champions, and in February, she was on a winning team at the NTC Regional competition in Los Angeles.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I will be working at a public interest environmental law firm in San Francisco called Shute, Mihaly, and Weinberger. The firm does work in the areas of water law, clean air, environmental justice and many others. I am so excited to start with the firm because they do really important work in environmental law, and they focus on building foundational skills for young lawyers.

That’s fantastic! What advice would you give to incoming law students who share your passion for environmental law and want to make an impact like you have?

I would tell incoming law students to make the most of their time at law school. Everyone talks about how grueling law school is, but we often forget that it also flies by! Because law school goes by so fast, you have to make an effort to take advantage of all of the resources in law school. The environmental program at UCLA Law provides so many opportunities to make connections and build core lawyering skills. So get involved in ELS, join JELP, attend panels, take environmental courses and learn as much as you can!

I am so grateful that I get to practice environmental law because I get to make my family proud, I get to make a difference, and I love the work that I do. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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