The network of relationships I began at Vermont Law School is the network I rely on today for my work. ”
Staff Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity
As a competitive basketball player, Amy Atwood understood from an early age the way a team or system works—how the interaction of various elements leads to specific outcomes, and how a balance must be maintained among those elements. Little did she know that maintaining balance within a very crucial system would become her life's work.
I became aware of ecosystem issues in high school," says the Oregon native, "when people were calling for the protection of the spotted owl. Although generations of my family have worked in the timber industry, I was able to see the other side, too, and I thought I would like working as a lawyer to protect endangered species."
Atwood attended the University of California, Berkeley, on a basketball scholarship. The athletics and academics were both so demanding, she had no time to think about a career. "Then, at the beginning of my senior year," she says, "I was injured and could no longer play a central role on the team. This freed me up. I was a political science major, but the single most important event for me that year was an environmental symposium that was held on campus. I remember every detail of that day—what I was wearing, that I was late, that I was coming from practice and my hair was wet."
One of the symposium panelists was a tall woman, who stood up at one point and described her job. "She was probably about 5 feet 10 inches tall," says Atwood, "and she said we shouldn’t let anyone tell us there are too many lawyers. She said we really need more environmental lawyers, especially more female environmental lawyers—and especially more tall female environmental lawyers, because they are more intimidating in court. I'm 6 feet 3 inches tall, and it was like she was speaking directly to me."
After investigating the nation's top environmental law schools, Atwood chose Vermont Law School. Here, she was again reminded of the value of a well-balanced system. "In law," she says, "relationships can make all the difference. I was a research assistant for a professor—Pat Parenteau—who helped me find a position for the Environmental Semester in Washington program with a firm that is nationally known as one of the best firms litigating on behalf of endangered species." The members of Meyer, Glitzenstein and Crystal then invited Atwood to join the firm after graduation.
"Competition was fierce," she says, "and I doubt they would have offered me a job if they hadn’t met me and worked with me in person. That semester in Washington changed my life. Being at Vermont Law School was like being a kid in a candy store—the courses and opportunities were amazing, and it seemed like more than you could ever absorb—but the relationships were what mattered most. I had the chance to develop connections with lawyers and advocates who I had read about in the newspapers when I was in high school. These were the people doing the work I wanted to do."
After three years working with Meyer, Glitzenstein and Crystal enforcing compliance with federal laws protecting wildlife and the environment, Atwood returned to Oregon to do similar work with the Western Environmental Law Center. Four years later, she took a position with the Center for Biological Diversity, continuing to work in her native state.
"It all started with the spotted owl," she notes, "and now I'm engaged every day in the protection of endangered species." Her work with the Center focuses on public lands in the western United States, where ecosystems are threatened by grazing and energy development.
"We are trying to maintain biodiversity. Thirty-five percent of the earth's species could be rendered extinct by climate change by mid-century—and it’s time to get out there and do something about it. This is the advice I would give to law students: Don't wait for your dream job to come to you. Instead, be active and really work for what you want. The network of relationships I began building at Vermont Law School is the network I rely on today for my work. VLS gives you all the tools you need, so take advantage of this and use these tools to make a difference."