Environmental, oceans, and clean energy law are essential to promote healthy environments, people, and economies. Environmental law is the broad area that examines and regulates issues related to the environment, including water, hazardous waste, air quality, species protection, wetlands, biodiversity, agriculture, green initiatives, waste management, sustainability strategies, and alternative energy sources.

The Certificate in Environmental and Oceans Law is designed to prepare students for careers in important fields like environmental law and policy, energy law, global warming and renewable energy, oceans and coastal law, and many other related areas. The program is open to current J.D. students and consists of coursework, a topical paper, experiential learning, and professional or scholarly activities.

Academic Requirements

To receive the Certificate in Environmental and Oceans Law, a candidate must complete the following:


Required Courses (two of the following):

One of the fastest job growth areas for new lawyers is the focus of this course.  Throughout law school and your legal career, you frequently will be required to interpret statutes and regulations when advising clients and crafting strategy. Moreover, the vast majority of attorneys who litigate are doing so not before judges or juries, but before regulatory bodies or non-judicial officers without the Rules of Evidence or Civil Procedure, and that have special standards for issues like standing and finality. The American Bar Association estimates that 65 to 70 percent of the practice of adjudication actually occurs in an administrative setting, rather than a courtroom. Moreover, “Virtually every aspect of public policy is addressed by one administrative agency or another. Topics include immigration, telecommunications, energy projects, environmental protection, food safety, securities and commodity trading, banking regulation, building codes, zoning, social security, utility rates, customs, and so on.”

This course will first introduce you to the principles of legislative interpretation, including exercises in drafting and interpreting. We then examine work that federal and state agencies do, the procedures they utilize, and the ways in which the political judicial branches seek to control administrative actions.  Students will undertake practical exercises on relevant issues throughout the semester to best develop your oral and written advocacy skills, and to better learn and remember the legislative and regulatory doctrines. The goal is to better enable students to address issues in their other courses, and in their legal jobs during and after law school.

The course will introduce students to the broad and deep field of Environmental Law. Environmental Law is practiced at the local, statewide, national, and (increasingly) international level. It contains elements of energy law, natural resources law, and land use law. It also crosses disciplinary lines with science and engineering, business and finance, and public policy. The course will introduce students to five of the major federal environmental statutes and regulations and the case law that interprets them. The five statutes are the Clean Air Act; the Clean Water Act; the National Environmental Policy Act; the Endangered Species Act; and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (a/k/a as the Superfund Law). In addition, we will briefly introduce students to several other of the three dozen or more extensive federal statutes addressing environmental issues. Student performance will be measured by student class participation and by the completion of one research paper of 25-35 pages to be selected by joint agreement of student and instructor.

This course examines the world public order of the oceans from the classical origins of the law of the sea to the post-September 11, 2001 security environment. It will appraise contemporary oceans law and policy including the goals and common interests of the world community and the United States including Maine. A framework for analysis of contemporary oceans law problems and claims will be considered before proceeding to a detailed appraisal of specialized topics. Subjects covered include sources of oceans law, United States oceans policy, the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea and the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, maritime navigation, maritime zones, coastal law and policy, land-locked and geographically disadvantaged states, fisheries, straddling stocks and highly migratory species, weapons testing, the continental margin, protection of the marine environment, marine scientific research, maritime boundary delimitation, deep seabed mining, national security and international incidents, polar and exploration claims, settlement of disputes, and the future of oceans policy.

Nine credits from these courses:

Environmental and Land-Related Courses

Animal Law is a rapidly developing area of law and one which demonstrates the challenges of regulating and mediating the complex and sometimes mystifying relationship between humans and nonhuman animals. Tasked with questions such as whether depictions of animal cruelty are protected by free speech; how to regulate massive factory farms; why the Animal Welfare Act exempts so many laboratory animals used in experiments; whether it is proper to bait black bears with buckets of human treats; how to deal with wild horses or your neighbor’s bees; or whether dogs and cats may inherit millions of dollars, Animal Law attempts to balance interests and find workable solutions to problems that range from neighbor disputes and veterinary care to some of the most critical problems facing our species, such as stewardship of our planet, food insecurity, and the moral question of who can be a rights-holder. This course will cover selected topics in the field, including recent thinking about animal intelligence, using animals for research, food, and entertainment, animal activism, and animals as companions.

In Climate Change, we are confronted with the defining policy challenge of our generation. Every institution of power, whether it be a national government or a corporate board of directors, must decide how to respond to it. The aim of this course is to inform the leaders who will guide those climate change policy decisions. We will build from an understanding of the fundamental facts of climate change, and its potentially devastating impacts, to the study of the tools available to governmental and non-governmental actors for climate mitigation and adaptation. The course will focus on not only the legal mechanisms targeted at climate change (laws, regulations, litigation), but also on the perhaps equally important measures taken by corporations and other private actors. We will discuss what can, what will, and what should be done.

The course will examine the theoretical and practical issues in energy law and markets, with particular emphasis on electricity. This course will explore the legal, political and market structures that govern the production, transmission and distribution of electricity, and how various activities (including efficiency programs, demand response and renewable energy production) are “monetized” within those structures. The course will also address some of the interrelationships between and among the various principles and influences shaping the electricity market and administrative law and practice.

This is a skills building course. Increasingly, attorneys who litigate are doing so not before judges or juries, but before regulatory bodies or officers—for example, on issues of planning and zoning, unemployment/social security/workers compensation benefits, environmental permitting, property tax review, and asylum to name just a few. And while this course will sharpen the skills of anyone who wants to do trial work, unlike trial practice the art of advocating for clients in a regulatory arena has differences—oftentimes the adjudicators are laypeople, the rules of evidence do not apply, there may be no discovery, and one must master varying (by agency) procedural rules. This course will begin with a review of the administrative adjudicatory process, with a primary focus upon Maine law, but as a “practicum” will involve the supervised practical application of administrative and environmental law concepts. Students will develop necessary practical lawyering skills by engaging in a variety of written and oral advocacy exercises using a wind power project simulation. You will draft and orally present to classmates a client memo, op-ed, and a recommended decision on the project. Students will also conduct a short direct or cross-examination of expert witnesses, present an opening or closing argument, and address ethical issues.

This course examines how land use is regulated and controlled. It begins by discussing why and when government regulation, rather than private market ordering, might be necessary to control land use and development patterns. It considers different regulatory and market-based tools that are available to control land use, including flexibility devices such as transferable development rights, contract zoning, and planned unit development. It then explores land use from the perspective of a project proponent, or developer. It examines the rights that an owner of land has if a particular land use regulation is inefficient, unfairly burdensome, unfairly disruptive of the owner’s settled expectations, or an infringement upon the owner’s civil liberties. The course then looks at land use issues from the other side, examining the rights of those who oppose the landowner’s plans (these project opponents are often neighbors). Finally, the course focuses on particular problems that plague the land use regulatory system, such as exclusionary zoning, the equitable distribution of undesirable land uses, sprawl, and smart growth.

Although barely touched upon in many law school courses, states and local governments play an important role in our everyday lives. They enjoy substantial law-making power; are responsible for financing and providing many public goods and services; and are the location of a great deal of political participation. This course will examine the theory behind and sources of local government power as well as the advantages and disadvantages of decentralized decision-making. Specific topics include: voting rights, local government formation and boundary change, state-local relations and local home rule, interlocal conflicts, school finance reform, and regional governance.

This course surveys the laws governing the ownership, conservation, exploitation, and preservation of renewable and non-renewable natural resources, including wildlife, fisheries, wilderness, parks, water, forests, and energy. It examines the constitutional, historical, political, and economic underpinnings of natural resources law and the means by which public policies are formulated, implemented, challenged, and revised.

This course is concerned with the acquisition, financing, development, operation, and disposition of real estate. The course provides an introduction to the essential material that a lawyer needs for participation in sophisticated real estate practice, including relevant doctrines and principles of the law of contracts, property, conveyance, mortgages, and leases. Attention is also devoted to financing techniques for the acquisition and development of real estate.

Bridge courses on Toxic Torts, Renewable Energy, Water Law, Climate Litigation, etc. View course descriptions for Bridge Courses.

Ocean and Maritime Related Courses

Much of the world’s commerce moves by water. The admiralty law intersects with domestic civil law at many points, including defining the rights of seamen, passengers, certain landside workers, ship responsibilities, cargo rights, and insurance. The same admiralty framework extends to the fishing industry and pleasure vessels in many instances. This course will survey the general principals of the admiralty law in its many applications.

This is a foundation course in public international law that is primarily, though not exclusively, concerned with legal relations among states and public entities in the global system. The course explores the dynamics by which international law is made and applied by appraising trends and outcomes in international decision bearing on problems of world public order. The goal is to equip students to understand why past decisions were made, to devise methods for predicting future decisions, to develop methods for inventing decision alternatives both at the structural or constitutive level, and to identify the conceptions and skills necessary for influencing future decisions in the range of arenas in which international law is made and applied: parliamentary, diplomatic, judicial, and arbitral in national and international settings. Topics covered include: origins of international law, sources of international law, establishment and transformation of states and other actors, state recognition, diplomatic protection, jurisdiction, international courts and tribunals, international organizations, international human rights, resort to and use of force, nation-building, the regulation of international agreements, sovereign immunity, and enforcement of foreign judgments.

This seminar explores claims to the seas as asserted by states and other actors. The theme is how such claims are shaping, and will shape, the contemporary world public order of the oceans. The seminar covers principally three categories of ocean claims: (1) Claims related to maritime navigation posed by state and non-state actors; (2) Claims related to maritime sovereignty and boundaries; (3) Claims to assert jurisdiction over maritime zones under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Within these categories the following topics will be covered: the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), marine wildlife, maritime ports, baseline determination, maritime zones, the arctic, shipping, international straits, the regime of islands, piracy and counter-piracy, the Gulf of Maine, and the South China Sea. Our shipping law meeting will be held at Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping firm operating from the Portland container port. During several sessions we will interact via teleconference with a Maritime Law Class in Hong Kong.

Bridge courses on Arctic & North Atlantic Law & Policy Issues. View course descriptions for Bridge Courses.


Externships offer second-year and third-year students the opportunity to gain legal experience and receive feedback on their work from seasoned professionals with guidance and support from a faculty member. Externship students earn 6 academic credits, spend approximately 18 hours per week over the course of the semester at their placements, and also participate in a mandatory course, which runs contemporaneously.

Prerequisites: All placements require the successful completion of all first-year courses as well as good academic standing. Some placements also require eligibility for certification as a student attorney or specific coursework.

*The Certificate Supervisor may approve additional courses with a substantial focus on environmental or oceans law. Note that not all courses are offered every year. 


Candidates must satisfy the upper level writing requirement by writing a paper (or journal contribution(s)) on a topic related to environmental or oceans law. The paper topic must be pre-approved by the environmental and oceans law program coordinator.

Professional/Scholarly Activity

Prior to graduation, candidates must participate in or attend at least one professional or academic conference on a topic related to environmental or oceans law, such as events hosted by ABA-accredited law schools, E2Tech or another Maine environmental organization, or a conference hosted by Maine Law. Participation may be in-person or virtual and must be pre-approved by the environmental and oceans law program coordinator.

Experiential Learning

The certificate includes an experiential learning component that can be satisfied in one of three ways: (a) The candidate may apply for and complete an externship that relates substantially to environmental or oceans law issues; the externship must be pre-approved by the environmental and oceans law program coordinator and the Maine Law externship program director, (b) the candidate may complete this requirement by working at a pre-approved job during law school (at least 150 working hours) focused on environmental or oceans law issues (Academic credit is not given for work at a job under this option); or (c) the candidate may complete this requirement by enrolling in a pre-approved “practicum” course related to environmental or oceans law issues.

Additional Information

Candidates must declare their intent to obtain the certificate by the end of their third semester. Students cannot earn both the Certificate in Environmental and Oceans Law and another certificate.