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January 9, 2013

Oregon Law Alumnus Teaches Students Value of Environmental Law

After finishing an advanced biology course in high school, Neil Kagan became concerned about the impact that the public’s actions have on the environment. “The environment, in the end, is what sustains life,” said Kagan. He saw the law as a way to influence environmental and social change, and decided he would like to attend law school. 

“I chose Oregon Law because it had an excellent reputation for environmental law and I thought the faculty was outstanding,” Kagan noted.

During his time at Oregon Law, Kagan was involved in the Environmental Law Clinic where he worked alongside Professor John Bonine and former Professor Terence Thatcher. One case in particular, a lawsuit against the Forest Service, stands out in Kagan’s mind many years later. He remembers this case because he had the unique opportunity to fly to the location in Idaho, learn how to take depositions and witness first-hand how cases are handled in the real world. Kagan went on to graduate from Oregon Law with a certificate in environmental and natural resource law in 1981.

Now, as a senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Kagan works with the University of Michigan Law School to teach law students the value of environmental law. The NWF and the University of Michigan Law School partnered in 1982 to form the Environmental Law Clinic, and today that partnership continues with Kagan as the director.

“I learn a lot from students, just as they learn from me. They keep me fresh,” said Kagan.

The students work alongside Kagan to protect the water quality of the Great Lakes, primarily using the Clean Water Act, which prohibits the discharge of pollutants that impair water quality. For instance, Kagan and his students work to stop aquatic invasive species, which are discharged by vessels, from destroying the ecosystem of the Great Lakes. One example of an invasive species is the zebra mussel, which was brought to the United States on ocean-going vessels visiting the Great Lakes and then spread throughout the lake system and on to other aquatic ecosystems across the country. Among other things, the zebra mussel filters food out of the water that would normally support native species at the bottom layer of the food chain, jeopardizing fish and other higher species.

Kagan cites involvement with the Oregon Law Environmental Law Clinic as a key way for students to gain practical experience prior to graduation. “If students have any interest in environmental law, they should take advantage of the resources available through the Environmental Law Clinic to cultivate that interest,” said Kagan.

To learn more about Oregon Law’s Environmental Law Clinic, visit the school's Environmental and Natural Resources Law website.

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