Faculty Spotlight

Improve Environmental Justice

Improve Environmental Justice with a Degree in Water & Environmental Law

When you hear the word “racism,” your first thought probably leads to the obvious; prejudicial actions towards a group of people based on the color of their skin. But there are many facets of racism with destructive, far-reaching effects. 

Environmental racism is a form of institutional racism leading to landfills, incinerators, and hazardous waste disposal – essentially, environmental hazards – that have disproportionate impacts in communities of color. In the 1950s, the term “environmental justice” emerged to describe the efforts to combat these hazards and find solutions. Back then, a study that traced the federal government’s bulk placement of hazardous waste sites within African-American communities was brought to light.

Improve Environmental Justice

The biggest recent example of environmental injustice includes the Flint water crisis, where the residents of a town in Michigan lost access to the most basic survival need – clean drinking water. The issue disproportionately affected minorities and low socio-economic classes that could not fix the problem, find other sources of water, or leave. 

Environmental racism generally results from the actions of large companies and the government. In those situations, it can be hard to feel as if you have the ability to enact change as an individual. But you do. 

McGeorge School of Law has two programs that lead to environmental impact: an LLM and an MSL program in Water and Environmental Law. The degrees provide value to land use planners, engineers, environmental consultants, public information officers, lobbyists, public agency and legislative staff, and others who seek expertise in this continually evolving field without a law degree.

Addressing Environmental Justice

In order to achieve environmental justice, there are two frameworks that must be addressed: stopping environmental wrongs and promoting environmental goods. Environmental bads involve toxins, carcinogens, and other toxins that disproportionately affect people of color. Environmental goods involve access to recreational opportunities, parks, and greens.

Clean energy, clean air, and access to public health for all income communities are all aspects of environmental equity. 

Achieving Environmental Justice

The one true way to achieve environmental justice is to redistribute the power. The decision-making must revert to the vulnerable communities that are impacted by environmental justice issues. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that can happen in a day. There are plenty of steps in between that can be taken, including:

  1. Education of pressing issues and effects of practices and policies that are in place
  2. Elevation of the voices of the communities that are impacted
  3. Advocating for policies that help the community
  4. Continuous accountability demanded from those in charge
  5. Participation in the decision-making process
  6. Promotion of environmental health

What Can You Do?

Obtaining your MSL or LLM degree in Water and Environmental Law opens up possibilities to enact change. Planners and engineers are a line of defense in ensuring that environmental hazards don’t make their way out to the community. Lobbyists advocate, pressuring elected officials to do what is good for their constituents. They become experts in their field, using their knowledge to let politicians know what is happening on the ground. Legislative staff can help create policy. Consultants assess the risk and advise projects on a path with little destruction. There are many options that the advanced degree can help you achieve. 

McGeorge’s MSL and LLM programs provide the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills that are critical in today’s complex regulatory environment. We have a distinguished faculty of experts in the field. Plus, our program is online, allowing students location and scheduling flexibility. Whatever other obligations you have in life, our online, asynchronous program lets you seamlessly integrate your education into them. 

For those not looking for a Juris Doctor who work in the legal or environmental field, our MSL gives you legal education without having to become a lawyer. And for attorneys who want to dive into their specialty, the LLM program is a perfect fit. What are you waiting for? Contact our admissions office today to join the environmental justice movement.

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Margaret Vick Faculty Spotlight

Faculty Spotlight with Margaret Vick

Professor Margaret Vick first took water law as JD student at McGeorge 40 years ago last May. At that time, the leading US expert on water law was teaching at McGeorge. She had also always been fascinated by the subject thanks to her upbringing in the middle of a major Western irrigation district, so all in all, there was no better institution to pursue her passion. McGeorge, essentially, was the perfect fit. Today, she believes that this program might be the perfect fit for many prospective students thanks to some unexpected and profound reasons.

Margaret Vick Faculty Spotlight

Always the Right School

Margaret’s first job after graduating was focused on water law in Arizona, and she has continued to hone her skill in her chosen area of practice ever since. Only recently retired, she stays busy teaching for her alma mater and pursuing research projects in the area. “There’s a growing number of us who call ourselves water law nerds. That is our area of interest and expertise,” she says with a smile.

On a more personal note, when Margaret’s children were in high school, she did not want to be tied to the private practice schedule of deadlines and client commitments but wanted to remain active in the field. So she went back to McGeorge, studied some more, and in 2009 received her JSD, this time in International Water Law. This added degree rounded out her education and provided a global perspective.

Water Law’s Unexpected Social Impact and Importance

There is so much more to water law than many prospective students might imagine. Here’s some context: Margaret grew up in New Mexico, where interaction with the native peoples was quite common. In law school, her background with water law led to a clerkship and first job with a firm representing many Native American tribes in Arizona. This sub-specialty, as she calls it, has remained close to her heart and motivating in her career.

Her private practice, focused on representing several tribes and organizations with a focus on tribal government and tribal water rights. “It’s a fascinating, personally rewarding, and fun experience working with tribal leaders and helping them understand the complexities involved,” she remarks. “I often would describe myself to tribal councils as a translator; my job was to take the legal complexities of water law and the added complexities of tribal rights, and translate them into a way that these leaders could make informed decisions about what they needed to do to protect their people for their future sustainability and their viability as a government.” 

The Far-Reaching Value of a McGeorge Degree

Her work also touched upon the effects of climate change on the water sources for these tribes, such as the diminishing quantity of water in the crucial Colorado River. On facing these harder truths, Margaret attests “I think it’s critical. Water allocations in the West are based on historical norms that are no longer present.” From a tribal to federal level, planning infrastructure, delivery of supplies, and economic returns all depend on the physical landscape. “Knowing as much about meteorology and climate as possible for a non-scientist and the legal structures that will still apply even though the natural environment is rapidly changing, is critical to being able to work in our future with variable conditions.”

Margaret knows the deeply applicable value of her degree and learned experience. “That’s what I have been able to bring to the table for my clients; a very broad perspective on legal systems gained from practice and study.” As conditions change, we need to be able to offer proposals for future water uses that are informed by what is happening in other locations. “That’s the value of the different programs that McGeorge offers: courses in the domestic water and environmental laws of the United States and courses in international water and environmental law. I took advantage of this 40 years ago, again in 2009 in the graduate program and current students have these same opportunities.” she adds. 

Study Now, Assure a Exciting Future

Both climate change and social impact are pivotal issues to consider when going into water law. In a field inextricably focused on the future, prospective students naturally want to choose a cutting-edge program with the longevity to match. “In water law, McGeorge has always had the leading experts,” Margaret assures. “If you want to learn from the practitioners in the field who have written the seminal textbooks, McGeorge is the place to be.”

The credentials are unmatched. Interested in international water law?

The leading scholars and practitioners are right here. In fact, Margaret recently published an article about water law in the latest edition of Western Legal History, a Ninth Circuit Historical Society Journal. In her important piece she illuminates tribal water rights and provides an historical perspective on the legal principles and language used. The paper’s second part provides a guide to a few key water terms frequently in the news related to the Colorado River, often incorrectly. Learning from faculty members like Margaret is one one the greatest assets McGeorge can provide its students. 

We Need People Like You to Find Solutions

On top of these advantages for water law study specifically, McGeorge is one of the leading institutions in Government Law and Policy, a field you need to understand in order to lead in this area – what is our future going to be, and how are we going to meet the increasing demand with decreased supply?

“As a water lawyer, the most conflict over water occurs when you don’t have enough of it. Then you need creative, learned people to find solutions. Dealing with that variability and addressing those issues is going to require more people.” This is how you know that your advanced degree from McGeorge comes with immense growth potential and upward mobility; you can be one of the people who works for a better future through the study of water law. 

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Thomas Cinti

Faculty Spotlight with Thomas Cinti

Thomas Cinti wasn’t always interested in law or teaching it, for that matter. In fact, he started in the sciences, but eventually loved the subject so much that he even decided to teach it to others. Now, he has useful insights and advice for students going through their own law education journey, especially online learners in McGeorge’s LLM or MSL degree programs.

Getting Talked Into Law 

Thomas attended Harvard in pursuit of a Master’s degree in Environmental Science. Meanwhile, his childhood friend, Michael Colatrella, convinced Thomas to join him in looking at law schools. “He essentially talked me into it, and dragged me around to a couple of law schools. We filled out the applications together, and that was my somewhat ignominious introduction to the study of law.” Oh, and if the name sounds familiar to you, you’re absolutely right; that would be the same Michael Colatrella who is currently serving as Co-Director of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learnings and a professor of law right here at McGeorge. 

But before he was fully sold on the idea, Thomas returned to Harvard fully expecting to stay and earn a doctorate degree. But when faced with conflicts and obstacles within his doctoral committee, he took it as a sign to choose law school. It was a reluctant journey, “But I will say this, because of my background in environmental science, what I was really interested in doing was environmental law. And that’s what I spent my entire career doing.” Now, he naturally has no regrets.

Becoming a Professor

While working his day job, Thomas noticed that a small college in Philadelphia called Holy Family University was looking to hire an adjunct professor of environmental science. “That’s perfect for me,” he thought. “I have my master’s in environmental science, I like doing it, and I don’t get as much of an opportunity as a lawyer other than augmenting what I do in the legal profession. So I thought it’d be fun to go ahead and teach.” 

He had done some teaching while at Harvard, and surprised himself with how much he enjoyed it. He got the job, and for the first year, strictly taught environmental science. He avoided teaching law, instead trying to relegate it to his day job, but eventually the university talked him into it. So unfolded (his again rather ignominious) journey to teaching law, including courses on HR law, business law, and particularly, negotiations. Around a decade later, McGeorge reached out. “I really enjoy it. It makes you yourself continue to learn, which is one of the most fascinating things about the role of teaching.”

A Wide Lens and Accessible Approach

Environmental law is a multidisciplinary field with a lot of crossover between water rights and protection as well as dealing with the government, because “It’s hard to do one without the other. And that’s, I think, both inherent and the thing I enjoy about the practice. It really does require you to be multidisciplinary.” Some legal professionals choose a very narrow focus, but Thomas likes the diversity of a water law issue one day and a zoning problem the next. “I think that’s what makes it exciting and keeps it fresh, and it keeps you on your toes, because you have to keep abreast of all these different areas of law.”

Though a little reluctant when he first started online instruction many years ago, Thomas has since become much more open and excited about the potential possibilities, “and a lot of it has to do with the technological advances that occurred because of COVID. It really forced us to get good at this stuff. I think it’s closer to being seamless.” He identifies the asynchronous course structure, which “really makes it accessible to students who, because of their jobs or family, wouldn’t otherwise be able to partake in the course. And I think that’s a huge plus.” There are certain benefits to be gained from in-person learning, he acknowledges, but genuinely believes that the benefits outweigh it.

Online Learning Success

For the benefits to sink in, however, students can aim to meet some key success factors. “You have to be able to work independently and motivate yourself,” he warns. But don’t be alarmed if you have thrived in conventional classrooms and need some extra reinforcement. “I meet with students all the time. We have phone calls and Zoom sessions, but it’s a little different than being in the classroom and being able to grab the professor after class to ask a question. So If you are a self-motivated person, and you’ve got a busy life, I think this is a great format in order to take your classes.”

Another thing to keep in mind is the social element of traditional versus online classes. Thomas recognizes that some hallmark student experiences, like meeting up with each other after class or forming spontaneous study groups, can be lacking. But if the social aspect of school is important to you, you can still reach out to your classmates and form relationships. When you do, you’ll likely find recent graduates from college looking to jumpstart vibrant futures, established professionals moving towards a career change, and government workers expanding into new and more advanced levels. “It’s very diverse,” he concludes. 

Overall, Thomas is satisfied and proud of both the work he does and the students he teaches. His final piece of advice could double as pure encouragement; “If there’s anyone who ever had any hesitation about taking courses in the online format, I would recommend you give it a try. I think it’s an entirely new environment that you can teach in now. And I think students seem to enjoy it.”

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Clemence Kucera

Faculty Spotlight with Clemence Kucera

Clémence Kucera is the Assistant Dean for the Graduate, Online, and International Programs at McGeorge School of Law. She had a remarkable trajectory, dedicated passion, and distinct goals, all of which she describes in our latest McGeorge Faculty Spotlight blog.

Clémence Kucera grew up partially in Egypt and actually attended law school in Paris, France, where she found her passion for international development. She moved to California to be with her husband, where she received her LLM from none other than McGeorge School of Law. She was quickly hired at McGeorge to support the Global Center for Business & Development through securing grants. 

Developing a Passion

A dedication to international development led her to work on a multi-year program with law schools in China, training professionals in legal education. “International development work has always been my passion. I’ve always had that desire to work with other countries and other cultures,” she says. 

On a personal level, however, traveling to China every month became complicated when she and her husband began growing their family. So when the former director of the LLM programs retired, Clémence accepted her new position. From there, she played a significant role in the creation of the MSL program, which has received acclaim for its innovative curriculum and approach. And she still loves her work. “It fits with my passion to educate people in the law so they have the resources to navigate the complex world we live in.”

Clémence’s broad perspective and extensive background in international development has helped her create a program that bridges the gap between traditional law school education and the real-world experience that law students need to succeed in the global market.

Helping Students Achieve Their Goals

Clémence’s role as the assistant for graduate online and international programs involves assisting students through various steps such as recruitment and admission. “Our department is like a small school within the big school that aims to be a one-stop-shop for students.” Recognizing that the graduate school experience can be overwhelming, she often focuses her energy on individualized attention to each student. 

“The most exciting part is working with the students after they are admitted and helping them with their course selections. We talk a lot about which courses make the most sense for them in achieving their current goals.” She’s also there if they need her when those goals and priorities shift. “It’s super exciting to see our students going through the program.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Clémence is committed to constantly advancing and improving the program. Her work with the alumni office provides the perfect opportunity. “The other part that I love is meeting with our MSL graduates to ask if there is anything else that they think we should teach, and what they think people with this degree should know.  Their professions change with the law.” She likes to hear feedback from students and make a plan of action to address their notes. The positive feedback she often hears serves a purpose, too. Nothing beats a student saying, “This is the class that made it for me. This is the class where I learned the skills that led me to the job that I have right now.” She personalizes and customizes each students’ trajectory to the best of her ability. “I want them to feel heard.” 

The McGeorge Edge

Since McGeorge is the only ABA-accredited law school in Sacramento, there is naturally a tight-knit community. Anyone with a legal background in the city is likely to be a McGeorge graduate – especially those employed in government, environmental law, and water law. “Because we have a smaller program, we get to know all of them, stay in touch, and celebrate their success stories.” 

Her passion for international development has led to a pursuit of strong interpersonal and community connections, which has helped her create programs that bridge the gap between traditional law school education and the real-world experience that law students need to succeed in the global market. “There are a lot of things that you can do with an MSL degree. So if you’re wondering, ‘Is this the right degree? Why should I do that?’ then listen to our webinars, read our blogs, and meet with us when you can.” 

Clémence can even put you in touch with McGeorge alumni, because she knows the importance of making those connections as soon as possible. “They know what McGeorge has to offer, they practice in the field, and they have all the connections you need to start your network. You don’t have to wait until you’re graduating from the MSL to start your networking – you can start as you’re applying!” Her goal is always to best serve and prepare her students. “If you’re trying to enter a specific field, make sure you stand out from others. I think the MSL can give you that edge, and we can guide you.”

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Rebecca Olson

Faculty Spotlight with Rebecca Olson

Rebecca Olson

Before college, Professor Rebecca Olson, ‘05, knew she wanted to become a lawyer. Even in high school, she was fascinated by the mysterious machinations going on behind legislation. From a bill becoming law to election protocol, she wanted to know the full story — and now she does.

Meet Professor Olson

Professor Rebecca J. Olson is a founding partner of Miller & Olson, LLP, where she specializes in political, campaign, election, and nonprofit law. She provides legal advice to corporations and trade associations, and serves as general counsel and treasurer to many campaign committees for local, state, and federal candidates, ballot measures, and corporate and trade association Political Action Committees (PACs). 

She also handles matters relating to compliance with campaign, lobby, and election laws, and represents clients on enforcement matters before the Fair Political Practices Commission. Additionally, she specializes in the formation and operation of nonprofit organizations, including compliance with Internal Revenue Code, California Franchise Tax Board and California Attorney General requirements. She is a member of the California Political Attorneys Association. As an accomplished McGeorge School of Law alumna and now professor, she has plenty of insights and advice to share. 

Becoming a Lawyer

Professor Olson earned a Political Science degree from Tulane University and decided to become a paralegal – but only as a brief stop on the road to becoming a lawyer. As she learned and grew in her role, paralegal job opportunities started sounding more and more fun, so she stuck with it. At the same time, she was volunteering for a Congressional campaign, where she discovered that she could apply her paralegal skills to the political world. She happened to be working at the law firm that was representing the campaign, giving her the inside scoop. After a few years of learning campaign finance as well as preparing and filing government reports, she applied to law school at McGeorge with a refreshed focus.

Professor Olson was drawn to McGeorge’s proximity to the state capital because she wanted to stay connected to the legislative action. Years later she was again drawn in, this time to teach, when Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Experiential Learning, Mary-Beth Moylan, called and asked if she’d consider an adjunct position. Spoiler alert: she said yes. She’s found, as both student and professor, that one of McGeorge’s strengths is how much interaction is required of the students even in an online program. 

A people person, the lack of face-to-face connection challenged her teaching style and has been a learning curve. She can see, however, “the emphasis that McGeorge puts on ensuring that interaction is occurring and that discussions are happening even though you’re not all sitting in the same room.” 

Participate and Communicate

Professor Olson advises McGeorge’s online students to “participate as much as you can once you’re there and communicate.” Just because you’re not sitting in the room or having a spontaneous conversation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t secure the support you need. “If you know something’s going on, you need assistance or an extension, have a concern about the program, or just want advice, reach out!” she said. As much as possible, Professor Olson proactively reaches out to her students, so they know that she’s a real person and here to help. The well-designed combination of flexibility and foundation means that a great education is available to a broader range of law students. 

While McGeorge offers a comprehensive and rigorous program, it’s not aimed to break you down, she says. It’s more about extending your established knowledge while teaching you to speak the language of lawyers and become their most valuable asset. “I think it can be a hugely important thing for a career. It just allows more choices and potential for growth,” Olson said. She laughingly has to plug her favorite class of all, the Election Law course, and explains how it provides a 360-degree view of a complex subject, and positions students to fill legal roles in a complex political field. 

“I finally had people understand what election law even meant!” Olson said. How are elections run? How are votes counted? How do you keep up with the updated Supreme Court rulings on voter rights? There’s been a significant change of focus, and an MSL helps you meet the newly increased demand for scrutiny. The public needs qualified people with a strong backbone to run these elections, and Professor Olson assures us that the need “has grown significantly and continues to grow.”

Find Your Passion

Her final words for prospective students aren’t just law school advice, but life advice: Until you get interested in something specific, it’s really hard to know what jobs are out there to aim for. If you find an interest in something, delve into it, and find out how people make a living doing it. “You may be surprised,” she says. “We walk through life thinking there’s a set number of types of occupations, and there aren’t. There are a significant number of different types. Don’t pigeonhole yourself, be open, and figure out what gets you excited every day. I’m an election law nerd and I love it, but that’s not for everybody. Find your passion! There’s no one path that makes you a successful person.” 

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