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David Henkin '91
Staff Attorney, Earthjustic
Since Earthjustice is a law firm, albeit a public interest one, most of my time is spent on litigation. On a given day, I perform factual and legal research to work up new cases, research and draft pleadings, motions or briefs for cases already on file, meet with clients, cajole opposing counsel, and the like. Since public interest environmental lawyers are a pretty tight-knit group, I also spend a fair amount of time emailing or talking on the phone with colleagues around the country, brainstorming on litigation strategies or sharing research and briefs.
In public interest work, winning cases is often only half the battle. To keep our victories from being undone by legislative action, I often testify before the Hawaii Legislature or work with Earthjustice’s policy folks in Washington, DC to influence lawmaking at the national level. I draft press releases, fact sheets, op-eds and other materials, hold press conferences, and speak at conferences to educate the press and public about the importance of our litigation efforts and to remind them about the central role environmental protection plays in improving the quality of life in Hawaii.
For many years, I put in 10 to 11 hour days on a regular basis, with longer days and occasional weekends during litigation crunches. Now, with two children, I try to keep the work routine to nine hours a day.
Of course, when litigation deadlines loom, I have an ethical obligation and a personal commitment to do what it takes. Earthjustice’s Mid-Pacific office has only five attorneys, so I am usually the only lawyer staffed on a case. When a brief needs to get cranked out, it’s usually up to me, and me alone, to do it.
The best and worst thing about my job is that I feel really committed to protecting Hawaii’s unique environment and, in particular, its many critically endangered species. It’s the best because I feel passionate about my work and am motivated to put maximum effort into all aspects of my cases. It’s the worst because it can be hard to leave the office at the office and enjoy the rest of what life has to offer.
The demand for paying jobs in public interest environmental law far outstrips the supply. Thus, to pursue a career in my field, it helps if you’re flexible about both where you live and the issues on which you work, so you can take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.