The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Emily Tabak is an environmental partner in Kirkland’s Salt Lake City office. Emily identifies strategic solutions in environmental regulatory compliance, with extensive experience navigating regulatory, permitting, and liability issues involving waste, chemicals, site remediation, and water and air quality. Prior to joining Kirkland, Emily practiced in the New York area, advising clients on environmental issues and assisting with high-profile litigation and bankruptcy proceedings. Emily served as a judicial clerk to the Honorable Robert Kirsch on The Superior Court of New Jersey and received her J.D. from New York University School of Law.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
The environmental practice area is a dynamic practice that has litigation, transactional, and restructuring elements. We focus on environmental risks while assisting firms in buying and selling businesses, and we advise on environmental regulatory compliance and enforcement issues, which can all have significant implications for deals, litigation, and restructuring scenarios.
What types of clients do you represent?
We represent the largest and most complex clients, including private equity firms, portfolio companies, privately held companies, and publicly traded companies. Our representations are industry agnostic, with clients involved in multiple industry sectors, including energy and resources, mining, oil and gas, aggregates, chemicals manufacturing, consumer products, and electric power.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I handle a wide variety of matters, including regulatory compliance advice on contamination issues, waste and chemicals management, and emerging contaminants, as well as audits, disclosures, and enforcement response. I also provide environmental guidance and expertise in transactional, litigation, and restructuring contexts. Part of my practice involves monitoring changes in regulations and guidance in evolving areas, and I frequently brief clients on what these changes will mean for their businesses.
How did you choose this practice area?
I began my career as a litigator, but quickly realized that I enjoyed the regulatory compliance aspects of my practice the most—figuring out how to practically solve businesses’ problems and compliance issues outside of the litigation context. When the opportunity to join an environmental compliance practice arose, I jumped at the chance. I enjoy being a part of a niche group at a large firm.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Every day is different, with a good balance of client calls, internal team meetings, brainstorms, and researching and writing to deliver advice in a concise, practical manner for our clients.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Take advantage of any and all resources available, including those provided by the Environmental Law Institute, to get a crash course in foundational environmental law topics and changing agency priorities.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Our practice area provides top-of-the-market transactional training, as well as opportunities to counsel clients on environmental regulatory compliance issues that can be critical in litigation, as well as in the restructuring context. Our practice area also provides an opportunity to learn from and grow with a smaller group of lawyers (25+ environmental-focused attorneys) within a large firm, focusing on cutting-edge matters with incredibly sophisticated clients.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?
Our summer associates work on the same projects that more seasoned attorneys work on, giving them a real sense of the transactional, regulatory, and other work that we do. They participate in substantive work, such as joining management calls on deals, conducting due diligence, drafting memos, and doing thorough research to develop advice and strategies for clients, which gives them early exposure they wouldn’t quite get elsewhere.
What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?
Lawyers in this practice area can pursue successful careers in private practice or transition to the public sector to work at federal or state environmental agencies. There are also opportunities in-house at companies with environmental compliance issues.
How do you balance the different hats (from litigation to transactional work to regulatory matters) that an environmental lawyer must wear?
Balancing different hats and working with various groups within the firm is one of the most rewarding and interesting parts of the job. This aspect provides a constant variety and the experience of looking at a particular rule or problem from different perspectives depending on the client need. An environmental lawyer needs a strong core foundation in the major environmental statutes and rules. Getting to apply that knowledge in different postures and contexts, and with real-world business applications and experience, is both challenging and fun!