The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Madeleine Boyer, Principal, and Dacie Meng, Associate — Environmental
Madeleine (“Maddie”) Boyer chairs B&D’s International Environmental practice and co-chairs the firm’s Air & Climate Change practice. She began as an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC, office in 1999 before returning to Texas in 2005 to co-found the Texas office and serve as its first managing principal. Maddie is also a member of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee and maintains a pro bono political asylum and international human rights practice. Prior to joining B&D, Maddie was a staff attorney at the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (now the TCEQ) and interned with the Centro Méxicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA). From 1988-1990, she served in the United States Peace Corps in Guatemala.
Dacie Meng is a fourth-year associate in B&D’s Washington, DC, office. Before joining B&D, she received a J.D. and Master’s in Environmental Management from Duke University and clerked at EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. She maintains an active pro bono practice—focused on immigration matters—serves as a Deputy Chair of B&D’s Women’s Initiative, and sits on the Recruiting Committee and Technology & Innovation Committee.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Maddie: I divide my practice between domestic and Latin American environmental law. My domestic work involves regulatory counseling and enforcement defense, primarily relating to air and waste regulations. My Latin American practice focuses on product compliance and stewardship and circular economy issues.
Dacie: My practice focuses on end-of-life management of plastics, packaging, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and other products in the U.S. and globally. I regularly work with clients on circular economy and extended producer responsibility initiatives around the world.
What types of clients do you represent?
Maddie: Firm clients are primarily multinational corporations from the energy, refining, manufacturing, chemical, and retail sectors. We also represent a number of municipalities.
Dacie: I work with clients from the technology, pharmaceutical, retail, and chemical sectors.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Maddie: My enforcement portfolio typically involves fairly high-stakes cases that result in technically complex settlements and sometimes move to litigation. For example, I handle several matters before the U.S. Department of Justice under the EPA’s Flaring Enforcement Initiative. Those cases involve significant injunctive relief and penalties that can run into the hundreds of millions. My product stewardship portfolio helps clients understand the host of new requirements in Latin America applicable to their products and generally involves obtaining registrations and permits for import-export, take-back, and recycling. Latin American rules are, in many ways, more advanced than those of the U.S.
Dacie: I support the development of product stewardship programs across the country in compliance with extended producer responsibility legislation. This work includes review of hazardous waste, transportation, contracting, and other issues. I also counsel clients on requirements governing transboundary shipments of products for reuse, repair, and recycling in compliance with international and domestic requirements. As a final example, I help draft public comments on proposed regulations addressing emerging contaminants.
How did you choose this practice area?
Maddie: I was always interested in environmental and international issues. I went to law school when NAFTA was being negotiated and the first environmental side agreement to a trade deal came into play, bringing these two issues together. They have remained compelling to me since.
Dacie: I studied environmental engineering in college and went to law school knowing that I wanted to study environmental law, focusing on the interface between science and the law. I knew that this field would present opportunities to engage with interesting scientific and legal developments, and I certainly haven’t been disappointed.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Maddie: No day or issue is the same. But in general, I typically spend time in meetings with clients or government officials (in person or by phone/video conference), as well as researching or reviewing the research of others; developing legal and strategic advice (by memo or email); preparing trainings or CLE presentations; and attending to firm matters, like business development, recruiting, pro bono, or diversity and inclusion efforts.
Dacie: I agree that there is no typical day. My days often consist of research on regulatory and legislative developments; analysis of potential application to and strategic options for clients; and calls, meetings, and emails with client teams to report out on that work. I also dedicate time to the firm’s Women’s Initiative, recruiting committee, and other activities.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Maddie: I strongly recommend governmental agency experience. Environmental law is substantively complex, as is its implementation. Having an inside view into the challenges that environment lawyers face in representing the government is invaluable and will help you become a more effective advocate for clients who need to interact with governments. And it’s not just adversarial—you will have developed a strong network of contacts who can often help solve clients’ problems.
Dacie: To be a good environmental lawyer, you have to be a good lawyer. To be a good lawyer, it’s important to learn the basics by studying administrative law, statutory interpretation, and similar topics.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
Maddie: The most challenging aspect is that issues are typically complex, unique, and often exigent. If the questions were easy, there would be no reason to seek outside legal counsel. On the other hand, this same challenge is also what makes the practice engaging. No two questions are the same.
Dacie: A single matter can involve any number of environmental and other laws, requiring significant breadth and depth of knowledge to spot the issues relevant to clients. Working somewhere like B&D, however, means that you have access to the foremost experts on many of these topics, and you are able to support clients on the full suite of environmental issues affecting them.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Maddie: It is multidisciplinary. All environmental law involves some aspect of science, economics, public policy, law, and psychology. The practice involves issues that are very interesting and real world.
Dacie: Environmental law is always evolving—there are new and emerging contaminants, changing priorities for regulators and companies, and novel regulatory and legislative schemes. These developments provide exciting opportunities to help clients and engage on challenging and new issues along the way.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Maddie: We are the first and largest law firm in the U.S. (and the world) that is dedicated exclusively to practicing environmental law at the nationwide and global level. We were founded by the EPA’s first administrator and have kept our focus on environmental law since. It is extraordinary to work alongside so many specialized lawyers, many of whom are thought leaders in their field.
How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?
Maddie: Environmental law is in an extraordinarily dynamic time and is resurging in global importance. For many years, environmental law focused on regulating industrial concerns at their source and was not of wide public or business concern. Climate change, emerging contaminants, and circular economy issues like human rights and plastic and electronic waste present complex global issues that are priorities for the industry, governments, and citizens. Their solution will require different approaches than traditional environmental regulatory regimes have provided.
Dacie: Environmental law is becoming increasingly integrated into other areas of the law and vice versa. Regulators and companies are innovating to solve complex and cross-cutting environmental challenges by putting forward novel interpretations for existing rules, in addition to developing new treaties, legislation, and regulations.