Thinking of an internship? A summer with E.L.F. – Sophie Flax

I always had a great interest in the environment, wildlife and the countryside, and a deep-rooted belief that the natural world needs us to work to protect it from the impact of modern life. I had also always intended to qualify as a solicitor, and when it came to taking my GDL at City I really enjoyed learning about the law and meeting fellow students with a wide range of interests. I met a handful of other City students with an active interest in the environment and the law in this area, and we quickly began to discover ways of gaining practical experience in environmental law.

I discovered the E.L.F. (Environmental Law Foundation) internship and applied. I simultaneously began working on a booklet outlining ways in which citizens could protect green spaces in their local area alongside fellow students who had taken the internship at E.L.F. the previous summer. I had been involved in environmental law as a member of UKELA (UK Environmental Law Association), through which I attended talks and seminars, and through Campaign against Climate Change as a legal observer and campaigner. I felt now was the time to deal with environmental law cases hands on, to meet clients and practitioners, and to learn about environmental law in practice.
I was accepted onto the Summer Internship 2010 in the Advice and Referral Service as a caseworker. I was amazed at how much experience I gained in a short space of time. At E.L.F. I was handling a very diverse caseload – one day I would be dealing with a Welsh Language complaint where the client was not effectively consulted on a Nuclear Consultation, the next I would be dealing with a community garden which had been set up in a site earmarked for development. I dealt with a large number of potential judicial reviews of council planning decisions, which involved reading Environmental Statements and Environmental Impact Assessments for the development. I also dealt with a number of nuisance cases, such as contaminated land and water. I enjoyed the time spent researching the law, soaking up the facts on which the cases turned, and learning about the legal processes.

The role involved handling enquiries from members of the public on the telephone and by email, keeping case files up-to-date, corresponding with practitioners and clients, reading and preparing court bundles, writing instructions and referring cases on to professional advisers. In this way I gained a depth of understanding about environmental law in practice.

In the Advice and Referral Service we supported citizens across the UK in their environmental claims by arranging free legal advice for them. The advisers in E.L.F.’s network include the very best environmental lawyers in the country so our role was to arrange for them to assist clients who came though us on a pro-bono basis. People were really grateful for the assistance we were able to offer them, and often would comment on how much it meant to them to have access to a community of people who were able to support them. It was very much a case of championing the underdog, and E.L.F.’s courtroom successes over the years prove how strong we can be when we unite to fight for environmental justice for communities, often in the fact of large companies and developers.

I have relished the opportunity to learn more about UK planning law, conservation law and nuisance. I have now gone on to work in the Planning Conservation Casework team at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and will be applying for training contracts this year, with a focus on firms who specialise in planning and environmental law. I would highly recommend the E.L.F. internship to anyone with a passion for the environment and the law, and an interest in environmental justice. I will never forget my time there, the friends I made, and the support and training I was given by the staff. Thank you E.L.F.!

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