Law is one of those fields where you can use your skills in one of two ways: for good or for evil. And with climate chaos and environmental damage growing worse and worse, there are fortunately many environmental law organizations out there fighting for what's right — all without charging clients.
So, we've rounded up a mix of U.S. environmental law organizations and centers — each of which either relies on lawyers donating their time, or has a staff of lawyers — that provide free legal aid to cases defending the planet, fighting for environmental justice, and working to help people being hurt by the climate crisis.
Keep reading to learn more about a few of these prominent environmental legal organizations.
With more than 200 lawyers and 15 offices across the U.S., Earthjustice has taken thousands of legal actions, representing clients big and small. The organization has defended national forests, exposed the harm of coal, gotten dangerous pesticides banned, and so much more.
Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC)
The nonpartisan nonprofit Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) is "the South’s largest and most effective environmental advocate and protector." The organization is made up of over 100 lawyers plus a staff of 200, and has nine offices across the Southern U.S.
SELC's mission is to protect the basic right to a clean and livable environment, to preserve the South's nature and biodiversity, and to fight for environmental justice.
The Southern Environmental Law Center has had numerous successes since its founding 1986, including defeating the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, cleaning up 270 million tons of coal ash, reviving the red wolf population, and so much more.
Environmental Law Institute (ELI)
Based in Washington, D.C., the Environmental Law Institute has been working to develop policy, educate professionals and the public, and bring together diverse groups to solve environmental problems since 1969.
Through ELI’s Pro Bono Clearinghouse, the Environmental Law Institute connects attorneys and communities who need help solving an environmental issue.
Great Lakes Environmental Law Center
The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, based in Detroit, Mich., is an environmental legal advocacy organization serving the state of Michigan, offering legal services to anyone facing an environmental issue.
"We focus on addressing environmental issues impacting people of color and low-income [people] because these communities are often more severely impacted by environmental issues and often lack access to legal services," reads the website for the center, which was established in 2008.
The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center has dealt with cases involving clean air, clean drinking water, hazardous waste management, urban farming projects, environmental justice, and more.
Western Environmental Law Center (WELC)
The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) "uses the power of the law" to protect public lands, wildlife, communities and the climate in the Western U.S. The center, founded in 1993, now has offices in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.
WELC is technically a public interest law firm, meaning it does not charge for legal services, and is instead funded by donations.
Some of the center's legal victories include helping restore protections for the gray wolf, preventing the extinction of the northern spotted owl, and working to prevent 6 billion tons of Powder River Basin coal from being mined.