Laurel Firestone, HLS class of 2004, co-founded and co-directs the Community Water Center (CWC), a nonprofit organization in California’s Central Valley that helps rural communities gain access to clean and affordable drinking water. Laurel began thinking about the connection between environmental issues and human rights prior to coming to law school, when she worked on these issues with indigenous peoples in Brazil. While Laurel did not know exactly what environmental law looked like before coming to HLS, she knew that her future career was going to have something to do with the environment, and her time at HLS solidified her passion and interest in environmental justice as a field. While in school, Laurel was involved with the Environmental Law Society and the Environmental Law Review, and she spent her 3L year at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall through the Berkeley-Harvard Exchange Program.
After graduating from HLS, Laurel received an equal justice work fellowship to start a project in California’s rural Central Valley that sought to help disadvantaged communities gain access to drinking water. It soon became clear that this work needed a long-term effort and not just a campaign, and the Community Water Center was created. Laurel has had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects with the CWC, including: serving in local government on a community water commission; acting as attorney for a number of local water boards; helping to pass California’s Human Right to Water Act, the first such enactment in the U.S.; and creating pioneering regulatory programs for dairies and irrigated agriculture, a huge achievement made even more momentous in light of those industries’ significance in the Central Valley. Laurel appreciates the variety and challenge of doing work that ranges from creating small-scale change with individuals on the ground to engineering institutional change through larger-scale policy work.
Laurel’s unique and self-driven career has allowed her to tackle unaddressed problems where her efforts can have a major impact. She recommends that HLS students seeking scarce public interest jobs take seriously the opportunity (and use the resources HLS provides) to create their own careers and paths to achievement.