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The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.

Stacey VanBelleghem represents clients in a variety of industries on major project infrastructure and development, administrative petitions and rulemaking, and litigation under federal environmental law. In addition to her environmental practice, Ms. VanBelleghem has previously served in management roles as Global Co-Chair of the Project Siting & Approvals practice and on the firm’s Diversity Leadership Committee, Global Associates Committee, and Global Pro Bono Committee.

Before becoming an attorney, Ms. VanBelleghem worked at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in its Public Policy Department and also at the National Park Service.

Robin Hulshizer is a trial lawyer with more than 25 years of experience litigating complex commercial and environmental matters. She is a member of Latham’s Complex Commercial Litigation and Environmental, Social & Governance practices, focusing on environmental litigation, greenwashing claims, and environmental justicebased claims. Her experience includes toxic torts, product liability, consumer fraud, business contract, insurance coverage, class actions, and securities litigation.

She formerly served as Deputy Office Managing Partner of the Chicago office as well as Local Chair of the Environmental, Land & Resources Department and Vice Chair of the firm's Diversity Leadership Committee.

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Stacey: Our practice represents a full spectrum of clients across administrative and regulatory proceedings, enforcement, litigation, transactions, and legislative matters.

Our land use permitting and entitlement team regularly negotiates on behalf of clients with federal, state, and local regulators, consults with American Indian tribes, and helps clients manage complex stakeholder relationships. We engage these stakeholders on environmental policy and permitting relating to conventional and renewable energy projects and energy infrastructure siting issues of all kinds, including power generation, transmission, pipelines, and transportation projects. We work with clients to create a legally defensible administrative record before the agencies and often defend the approvals in later administrative and judicial challenges.

On the deal side, we work with our corporate, finance, and tax colleagues on transaction structure and other approaches to account for environmental considerations in transactions.

What types of clients do you represent?

Robin: We counsel and represent multinational corporations, project developers, investors, and lenders throughout the world in every kind of environmental matter, from air and water quality, chemical and product regulation, contaminated properties, and land use permits, to complex commercial environmental litigation, toxic tort class actions, environmental insurance, climate change, and energy transition matters.

Clients reflect a range of industries—including manufacturing, oil and gas, consumer products, energy, and industrial hygiene—working on major infrastructure projects, renewable energy projects, or whose businesses intersect with air quality and climate change issues or other environmental issues.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Stacey: We routinely help clients navigate complex agency rulemakings, win approvals for energy and infrastructure projects, obtain new chemical and product approvals, and resolve environmental investigations, compliance, enforcement, and litigation matters across industries.

With the energy transition, we are advising oil super majors, midstreams, and industrial companies on cutting-edge carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) projects, which play a critical role in mitigating the effects of climate change. 

We also represent offshore wind developers in connection with leasing and permitting considerations for offshore wind development in the nascent U.S. offshore wind industry and advise sponsors and lenders on transformative offshore wind development projects. Relatedly, we represent an offshore wind developer in some of the first federal court challenges to offshore wind project approvals in the U.S., including beating back proposed preliminary injunctions against the second large-scale commercial offshore wind generation project approved in federal waters offshore from the U.S. and the first to connect to New York. 

How did you choose this practice area?

Stacey: Prior to my legal career, I worked in the field of historic preservation, including processes for cultural resource review, stakeholder feedback, and regulatory considerations. When I studied environmental law in law school and then when I was included on the team for an environmental matter when I joined Latham, I realized the similarities between the environmental work and my previous historic preservation work. And of course, I really liked the colleagues I met in Latham’s environmental group, so the practice was a natural fit.

Robin: I love litigation. And I am absolutely enamored with all things environmental, including the complex regulatory framework that exists to protect the environment in federal, state, and local jurisdictions. Doing environmental work at Latham allows me to satisfy both of my passions. And in between the intense periods of litigation, I have opportunities to work on straight regulatory matters, or handle the environmental aspect of due diligence for some of the fascinating corporate transactions the firm is handling.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Robin: There are no typical days. The work is so varied. Some days, I may be preparing for trial or interviewing a witness for a deposition. Some days, I may be digging into interesting documents or facts that associates have dug out of a multitude of materials, using their research to help build a strategy for a victory. Other days I may be drafting a motion or a slideshow, or preparing my oral argument for court. And some days…they do happen…I get to relax and have fun with my Latham colleagues.

Stacey: My typical day as a partner is quite different from my typical day as an associate. Earlier in my career, I focused more on research or drafting documents and participating in strategy meetings. Then, as now, associates are involved in all aspects of a case so they get to see how it all fits together. Now as a partner, I do a lot of client counseling on the phone, understanding clients’ goals and challenges and providing advice, including federal agency and litigation strategy. And because I handle a lot of litigation, like Robin, I may be drafting or revising a motion or a brief or preparing for a court appearance.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Stacey: My administrative law class was very helpful to my practice. Here in Washington, DC, much of our regulatory and litigation work involves administrative law. I also took a survey course in law school on environmental law that gave a great overview of the relevant federal statutes. Latham’s environmental webcasts and our Global ELR Blog are great resources for students.

Robin: I totally agree about administrative law. Also, I recommend taking all the coursework available on trial advocacy, client counseling, and environmental law. The advocacy and counseling classes were invaluable as I am constantly dealing with facts and interacting with witnesses and clients.

Stacey: And the learning doesn’t stop at law school. Getting away for an immersive course, like the Environmental Law Institute’s Eastern Boot Camp on Environmental Law(R), is a great way to learn and meet other environmental lawyers.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Robin: I love the variety of work. My clients have matters related to soil, air, water, and land. And those matters may take the shape of regulatory counseling, litigation, government investigations, and also transactional matters. I work with such an exciting mix of both environmental constituents and even Latham colleagues in other practices.

Stacey: I second Robin’s point about variety. I feel like I have had eight different careers here at Latham. Environmental law is changing so rapidly, and we are constantly learning to remain at the forefront of environmental issues to best serve our clients.

How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?

Stacey: The energy transition is the biggest shift in our practice, impacting every sector. Because of our work across industries globally, we are ideally situated to advise on the energy transition. We have worked on renewable energy and electric vehicles, as you might expect. But the work is so multifaceted, touching on carbon capture and sequestration, hydrogen, battery technologies, and emerging technologies, and how industries are using these new technologies as they transition production and services to lower carbon energy sources.

What kinds of experience can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?

Robin: Looking at some real-life examples of what our most recent class of summer associates worked on: regulatory matters for offshore wind projects, briefing for litigation on behalf of vehicle manufacturers on electric vehicle policies, researching and briefing for a greenwashing litigation, assisting with a government investigation centering on environmental issues. And each year, summer associates get involved with drafting thought leadership. We work hard to ensure that our summers have meaningful work across a range of matters. In our articles and blog posts, we value the contributions of summer associates and acknowledge them by name in the publications they work on.

What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?

Stacey: I have spent my whole legal career at Latham. Robin clerked for a judge and worked for the Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division before coming to Latham 32 years ago. As we mentioned earlier, we have found our careers dynamic and varied. But we have observed Latham colleagues following a really interesting range of different career paths. Many have gone to state and federal governments as regulators or litigators. Others have gone in-house to companies, including many Latham clients, to run their environmental-focused practices. And we have seen colleagues move into work with non-governmental organizations, often in leadership positions. Spending time at Latham as an environmental lawyer can provide a lot of career options down the road.