The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Kaitlyn Shannon, Principal, and Leigh Barton, Associate—Environmental Litigation (2023)
Kaitlyn Shannon is a shareholder in B&D’s San Francisco office. She received her B.A. from Elon University and J.D. from Boston College Law School. Before joining B&D, she worked at two other law firms practicing general litigation. Kaitlyn is the co-chair of the Recruiting Committee.
Leigh Barton is a third-year associate in B&D’s Washington, DC, office. Before joining B&D, she received her J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center and externed at the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Law Institute. Before law school, she taught ninth-grade Algebra I in Jackson, Mississippi, as a Teach for America Corps Member. She maintains an active pro bono practice assisting minors in obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and their green cards. She also serves as the co-deputy of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee and sits on both the Recruiting Committee and the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Kaitlyn: I am an environmental litigator—most of my work happens in California state court and federal court. I have extensive experience with CERCLA, including defending against natural resource damages claims. I handle numerous California state law issues, including California’s Superfund program, California’s Environmental Quality Act, and various common law claims, such as nuisance. I have argued appeals in both California state court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. I also represent employers in Cal/OSHA administrative proceedings.
Leigh: The majority of my practice focuses on environmental litigation, but I also maintain a regulatory practice with an emphasis on solid and hazardous waste issues. My litigation practice includes enforcement defense, citizen suit defense, and tort claims. My regulatory practice includes helping clients understand and comply with local, state, and federal solid and hazardous waste statutes, rules, and regulations.
What types of clients do you represent?
Kaitlyn: I work with manufacturing clients, including those in the Fortune 500, trade associations, and municipalities.
Leigh: I primarily work with companies that generate, handle, and manage the recycling or disposal of solid and hazardous waste.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Kaitlyn: I work on a broad array of litigation matters. I have defended various companies in CERCLA cost allocation and natural resource damages litigation. I also defend companies against various common law claims, including nuisance for contamination and odor nuisance. I also represent companies in Cal/OSHA administrative hearings.
Leigh: I work on a wide range of matters. In my litigation practice, I defend against toxic tort claims, challenge the issuance of conditional use permits containing illegal and onerous operational and fee conditions, defend clients in administrative hearings, and represent clients in CERCLA cost allocations. In my regulatory practice, I counsel clients on permit compliance issues and assist them in understanding and maintaining compliance with federal and state hazardous waste rules and regulations.
How did you choose this practice area?
Kaitlyn: When I graduated law school, I thought I wanted to be a commercial litigator. After practicing for a few years at more general service firms, I was staffed on a few environmental litigation matters and those cases were consistently my favorite matters. I then focused my job search on finding a job where I could pursue environmental litigation exclusively. After I interviewed at B&D, I knew it was the right fit.
Leigh: I have always been interested in environmental issues. In undergrad, I majored in Environmental Studies, taking courses in both environmental science and environmental policy. I went to law school knowing I wanted to practice environmental law and explore the relationship between environmental science and the law. When I learned about B&D and its breadth and depth of work in environmental law, I knew that this was the place for me.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Kaitlyn: What I do each day depends on the stage of a case. When cases are in active discovery, I spend my time drafting or responding to discovery, interviewing witnesses, managing complex document productions, or taking depositions. At other times, my days are spent drafting pleadings or motions. I also dedicate time to the firm’s Recruiting Committee.
Leigh: There is no typical day. Some days are spent in meetings and/or drafting and sending written correspondence with clients, co-counsel, consultants, or experts to develop legal and technical strategies for litigation or advice for client counseling. Other days consist of research and writing or reviewing the research and writing of others. I also dedicate time to the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, pro bono relations and matters, and my own pro bono practice; our Recruiting Committee and various recruiting issues; and our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Kaitlyn: A strong litigation foundation, based on legal research and writing, is essential. I also encourage law students to seek out “on your feet” litigation opportunities through moot court, trial practice, or clinics. I similarly encourage associates to maintain a pro bono practice because, in addition to providing much needed representation, pro bono cases can be a wonderful opportunity to have direct client contact and do oral arguments.
Leigh: I recommend focusing on the basic legal skills of legal research, writing, and critical thinking. With respect to law school classes, I think the most important are the basic classes like Environmental Law, Administrative Law, Civil Procedure, Corporations, Contracts, Evidence, and Federal Courts. I also always advocate for law students to take as many experiential classes or opportunities as possible, whether that be clinic, moot court, trial advocacy, internships/externships, etc. I have found that getting experience in the practice of environmental law, and law in general, is the best way to prepare for practice.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
Kaitlyn: Environmental law is dynamic and constantly changes—particularly at the state level. There are also issues companies grapple with, such as ESG considerations, that can impact what a client wants to do. We are often called upon to analyze complex legal and policy considerations to assist clients with making business decisions.
Leigh: I think the most challenging aspect is that environmental law covers such a broad range of topics and practice areas that I’m constantly learning something new and coming across new and ever-changing challenges and situations. Similarly, work on a single environmental matter often requires in-depth knowledge of a variety of practice areas, such as contract law, constitutional law, corporations, land use law, and more.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Kaitlyn: Environmental law is remarkably broad, and I enjoy the challenge of learning new things as I work on different cases. Through this job, I not only work under and learn about various statutory schemes, but I also learn about our clients’ diverse businesses.
Leigh: The very same things that make this practice area challenging are the things that make me enjoy it best. I love variety and a constant challenge. I am constantly learning new things and experiencing new challenges that require me to think creatively and leverage a wide range of knowledge and prior experiences.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
One of the biggest misconceptions we have experienced is the assumption that environmental law is a very small field, focusing primarily around defending individuals or small groups against major corporations. In reality, we find that the environmental law field—and other areas of law and business that touch environmental issues, such as product regulation, worker health and safety, international treaties, human rights, and others—is huge and expanding. Both the topics within environmental law and the types of work environmental lawyers take on (e.g., litigation, compliance counseling, mediation, etc.) are greatly varied. There are so many types of cases that are not what one might consider a “typical” environmental law case and yet involve “environmental law” in one or a multitude of ways.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?
Kaitlyn: B&D strives to give summer associates a realistic picture of what it would be like to be an associate at our firm. Litigation assignments vary and can range from researching matters to assist with preparing pleadings or briefs, assisting with preparation for expert depositions, or identifying documents to assist with supporting various claims or defenses. Of course, full-time associates will remain involved with litigation for more than a few weeks.
Leigh: Summer associates get an accurate snapshot of what life as a junior associate is like at B&D. I think the biggest differences between my experiences as a summer and my experiences as a junior associate were the length of time I had to complete assignments and the fact that as a summer associate, assignments were framed with a limited scope in mind. The actual tasks I completed and the way I was included on litigation and regulatory teams was very similar to what I experienced when I returned as an associate.