GSA Annual Meeting, November 5-8, 2001

Paper No. 0
Presentation Time: 4:00 PM


MCADAM, Scott C., Irell & Manella LLP, Newport Beach, CA 92660, MCCARTHY, Joseph C., Pacific Groundwater Group, Seattle, WA and RHODES, Dallas D., Department of Geology and Geography, Georgia Southern Univ, Statesboro, GA 30460,

Environmental law in the United States is dominated by “The Big Five”: 1) the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“Superfund”), 2) the Clean Water Act, 3) the Clean Air Act, 4) the National Environmental Policy Act, and 5) the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Other aspects of environmental law, including personal injury suits, toxic tort claims, and the vast and heterogeneous laws governing surface and ground water rights, account for only a small fraction of the legal actions generated by The Big Five. A critical element in the resolution of most actions pertaining to The Big Five is the consideration and weighing of technical scientific evidence proffered by each party to support their position. Use of scientific evidence necessarily requires interactions among lawyers and the experts who provide and interpret the information. The value of a geosciences background to a lawyer is apparent. By understanding the science underlying the action, the lawyer is better able to assess the merit of an environmental action and plan a strategy for resolving the action. In short, the environmental lawyer with a geoscience background benefits by having two heads instead of one. Beyond enabling a lawyer to comprehend the technical science underlying an environmental claim, a sound undergraduate geology curriculum teaches students skills that are essential for a successful lawyer, environmental or otherwise. In particular, the analytical, logical, and detail-oriented scientific method that is integral to an undergraduate education in the geosciences provides a student with the “Big Five” tools critical to lawyer's success: 1) the ability to think critically, 2) the ability to solve problems creatively using complex and sometimes incomplete data, 3) the ability to build defensible arguments upon logical inference, 4) the ability to provide persuasive analogy when physical proof is not possible, and, 5) the ability to write clearly, succinctly, and effectively. With these Big Five tools in hand on graduation day, an undergraduate geosciences student is well equipped to take on the rigors of both law school and being a lawyer. Which leaves one to ask the question, which is more valuable (or dangerous), a lawyer who understands science, or a geologist who knows the law?