Laura Godfrey Zagar is a San Diego attorney who practices environmental law and litigation. As a partner at the Environment, Energy & Resources practice at Perkins Coie, she has played a prominent part in several innovative transmission lines and renewable energy projects. She regularly manages multijurisdictional, complex energy, and infrastructure projects as well as complex environmental litigation.
Laura represents utilities, energy developers, and others before federal, state, and local agencies. Her project experience includes numerous major transmission lines, as well as wind and solar projects. Laura has extensive experience with the California Public Utilities Commission, as well as federal, state and local land use and natural resource agencies. One area of her in-depth knowledge is the transmission planning process, particularly as conducted by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO).
Here’s a look at Laura and the work she does in the environmental law field, and why she’s passionate about her work.
1. Why did you decide to go to law school (and where did you go), and become a lawyer?
I wish I had a wise and reasoned explanation for why I went to law school, but I don’t. Coming out of college, I erroneously thought my options were limited - grad school, consulting, investment banking, or law school - and law school was the most appealing of those options. In retrospect, this view was not accurate.
However, I do not regret my decision, as law school was the right option. I enjoyed learning how to think like a lawyer and how the right answers to a problem are not always as black and white as we think it might be initially.
2. Why did you choose your practice area? What about it excites you?
I chose environmental and energy law initially because of the people that worked in this area both within the firm and the clients tended to be grounded with good senses of humor. What kept me in the practice area, however, are the interesting and important issues that we are confronting as a society in the environmental and energy areas. It is meaningful to contribute to our society’s response to these challenges. In short, when I turn the lights on, it’s very gratifying to know that I helped make that happen.
3. Tell me about the work you do in your Environment, Energy & Resources practice. What are some of the cases you've worked on?
My practice is an interesting hybrid of regulatory, transactional, and litigation work. Much of my work focuses on assisting clients in navigating the complex federal, state, and local regulatory schemes governing the development of energy and infrastructure projects. For instance, I have assisted clients in the development of major transmission line projects in Southern California that cross federal lands, state lands, and a number of communities. There are often many federal, state, and local agencies that have a say on where and how these projects should be constructed. Working with my clients, I help navigate this regulatory gauntlet to successfully get the project constructed safely, on time, and in compliance with environmental regulations. I also represent clients in litigation involving complex environmental issues, ranging from challenges to infrastructure projects to the remediation of a contaminated property.
4. Why is environmental law important today?
As a society, we are confronting serious environmental challenges, most notably climate change. With California leading the way globally, nearly every aspect of our lives may need to be reimagined. Our houses will be designed differently, our food will be grown differently, our yards will look different, and our means of transportation will change. Environmental laws are the primary drivers of these changes, including the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and many states’ renewable energy and/or greenhouse gas reduction goals.
5. With many attorneys opting for a career in solo practice, why do you choose a firm career?Because of the nature of my practice, it is important to have a deep bench of specialists that can lend expertise as issues arise on the major infrastructure projects that make up a large portion of my practice. While I am highly knowledgeable on many of the issues that arise, such as endangered species and other natural resource issues, these projects often unexpectedly raise a wide range of environmental challenges. At Perkins Coie, I can call upon experts in nearly every facet of environmental and land use law into the project when the unexpected happens.
6. What else do you want to add about you, your practice, or advice for young attorneys?
I encourage young attorneys to avoid writing off the practice of law because they are not enjoying the area in which they may initially practice. I tried several areas before ultimately landing in the environmental and energy practice area. Not all practice areas are the same, and often they each have their own personality. While someone may struggle in traditional commercial litigation practice, they might thrive in land use practice. To help figure out what areas may fit your personality best, talk to practitioners in the areas that interest you to see which would be the best fit.