I'm curious to hear about peoples experiences with lawyers and laws within the realm of permaculture, restorative, regenerative work. Any positive experiences out there? Do you see a niche to be filled for lawyers who play a positive role in project and organizational support?
I’m exploring options to expand my professional capabilities and law keeps popping up as a possible pathway. For the monumental shift in economy and culture that is needed, it seems we will need lawyers to help facilitate the transition...? Groups like the Sustainable Economies Law Center and Food Commons seem to be paving the way…
Curious of the group’s experiences and opinions...
As it happens, I am a lawyer, but I'm "stuck" for family/eldercare reasons in a jurisdiction that's a couple of thousand miles from the one where my law license applies. So I'm self-employed with a number of not-very-remunerative pursuits, practicing the fine art of living cheap and spending little.
My professional specialty a dozen years ago or more was environmental law and natural resource law, though I tended to represent extractive industries because that's where the money was.
To address your question, I can see some interesting legal challenges for the intentional community people (mostly surrounding novel land ownership models and contractual sharing schemes) and some role for creative drafting of conservation easements that might make permaculture land uses more economic, especially in jurisdictions with higher levels of land taxation. But honestly, I haven't seen much evidence of significant demand for permaculture-specific lawyering.
I went to law school from 1990 to 1993 and I still have student debt that's not paid off. Unless your "possible pathway" to the law will leave you debt-free at the end of it, I don't recommend it. The law is one of those professions that tends to drag people away from whatever cause or path led them to law school; the economic pressures are such that if you aren't extremely strong-willed, seven years after law school you'll find yourself in a small office in a suburban strip mall or an urban tower, doing something you never imagined, for people you do not like, in a cause you aren't thrilled by, for a paycheck that only seems generous before you subtract all the expenses of living an unsustainable urban or suburban lifestyle. I cannot recommend it. Moreover, I don't see a strong need for specifically permaculture-aware lawyers. All too often these days, any reasonable notion of sustainability has "no lawyers needed" build right into it.
That said, if you've got the right turn of mind law school is enormous fun. I found it to be three years of reading stories (every court case is a story) and arguing about those stories in class (I love to argue). I'd say, don't let your love of permaculture dissuade you from pursuing the law if being a lawyer seems fun to you.
I am not a lawyer but I am a paralegal and I've also had to hire a lawyer for the farm once. That was a mineral rights suit and we won, YAY!
Anyway, so my perspective is that there is a need for lawyers to assist with permaculture enterprises. I think defending people who are being fined/sanctioned for various water harvesting methods would be profitable in some areas. I know we will need to have a lawyer draw up various contracts and advise us on various matters for our permaculture business. We aren't quite that far in yet but I am prepared to hire one when we are close to opening to the public.
I know the lawyers that practice natural resource law here are quite busy. Water, oil, gas, and air are all big matters here right now.
Oh and just a bit of perspective between lawyer v. paralegal. I think I have it better. I work normal hours, I don't have as much stress and more fun since I get to delve deeper into the clients and situations. I see the hours my attorneys work, no thanks. I do make a pittance compared to them though. Plus I don't get to pick our cases, which is really awful when they choose to defend someone accused of pedophilia. I get to put my 2 cents in, help build the defense and argue a bit about things. I don't have to deal with crazy clients or again, the finances of running a business. I really think I have the best of it. My mom always said I'd either be a lawyer or an actress. I feel like I'm both in my current job with plenty of time to farm.
There are a lot of ways that permaculture and law overlap, some of which don't require you to have an actual law license For example, have you heard of Sharing Law? Earth Jurisprudence? I had an intern from NYU who did a research externship on intentional communities and I've been involved in that movement for most of my adult life.
Opportunities vary widely based on geography, so where you are located will matter. Google those terms for more info or send me a message (you can Google my user name and find me) and I will point you in some specific directions.