Nancy Marks, HLS ’83, has decades of experience as an environmental litigator, defending the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act and securing important victories against polluters. As a Senior Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in New York, Marks cites her work with community groups and her dedicated colleagues as some of the most fulfilling aspects of her job. While she refers to her work as a “playground for environmental lawyers,” it’s not without its challenges: several of her cases have been going on for years as companies keep trying to avoid the implementation of clean-up orders. Ultimately, NRDC’s persistence in these types of cases allows the organization to take on major polluters and win.
Marks obtained a masters in geology before deciding to pursue environmental law. At HLS, there was little institutional support for students with environmental interests. With no environmental clinic like there is now, Marks nevertheless pursued an internship with the Conservation Law Foundation, working 15 hours a week in addition to her course load. There was also no public interest career advising office back then. Dedicated to a career in public interest, Marks avoided the firm route and instead began her first year out of law school at a mostly unfunded position with NRDC in San Francisco, which ultimately led to her permanent position in New York. Though the resources and salaries at a law firm can be enviable, Marks says she never wishes she’d taken that path instead.
Given her own challenges in making her way in public interest law, Marks suggests that current HLS students hoping to do the same should stick to their goals and not be dissuaded by others. She says students who have followed their heart and are confident in their choices are ultimately successful and don’t regret their paths. Marks also acknowledges that the path can be hard and may involve bumps and hurdles, and certainly a lower salary. Her advice: be open to exploring different kinds of public interest or government options and maintain a commitment to public interest, even if it means detouring from a strictly environmental field.